It wasn’t until we started to incorporate lymphoedema treatment into our existing practice, that we realised many at risk men and women do not know a lot about lymphoedema, and those that do, feel very anxious about what it involves and how it will impact their lives. 

Lymphoedema occurs when the body is not able to regulate its lymphatic system.  The lymphatic system is similar to the blood system with just as many vessels.  Lymph is a clear fluid which travels along the lymphatics and is filtered by the lymph nodes, which remove foreign matter needed for immunity.  Lymphoedema is due to a failure of the lymphatic system when the lymphatic’s capacity for transporting lymph is permanently overloaded.  It usually affects the limbs and can also involve the trunk, breast, neck or genital area.

There are two types of lymphoedema: Primary lymphoedema develops from birth abnormalities within the lymphatics.  Secondary lymphoedema can develop following surgery involving lymph node removal, or from radiation, or scarring to the vessels. Lymphoedema is usually a pain-free condition.  Patients often describe the common symptoms begin with feeling clothing becoming tight, jewellery no longer fitting, and a heaviness in the affected limb.  The main symptoms is swelling.  In the early stages of lymphoedema this swelling can be reduced with elevation and massage.  If untreated, the swelling becomes fibrotic (scarred) and thick to touch.

Once the lymphatic system is damaged, lymphoedema can occur at any time, often starting from trivial encounters such as sunburn, bee stings, or infections. Treatments for lymphoedema start with the provision of information regarding lymphoedema, how to reduce the risks, and how to maintain and protect healthy skin for prevention of infection.  Specific massage is taught to drain excess lymph fluid from the affected limb and is recommended to be completed daily. Multilayer bandaging is often recommended for patients in the initial treatment phase to reduce the swelling, before the provision of a compression sleeve.  Compression sleeves are often custom-made to apply a graduated pressure and work to reduce excess lymph within the affected limb.  Deep breathing and exercise are also important adjunct activities that can help assist the management of lymphoedema by increasing the flow of the lymphatic system. 

In a nut shell from our experience, early detection and treatment of lymphoedema are paramount in effective management.  To learn more about lymphoedema and how to treat it, you can look at our website (Living Well with Lymphoedema Locally in Wagga!).