Lymphedema is a common cause of arm and leg swelling, especially in people who are treated for cancer. Some 20% of women treated for breast cancer develop lymphedema, for example, but it frequently occurs following treatment for many types of cancer. The specialists at Vascular Associates of San Diego in La Mesa, California, serving all of San Diego County, offer ongoing support and management for this uncomfortable condition. The earlier you seek treatment, the easier it is to reduce the swelling before complications set in, so don’t wait to call or schedule an appointment online.
Lymphedema occurs when fluid from your lymphatic system leaks into the surrounding tissues. This problem most often affects your arms and legs, where the excess fluid builds up and causes swelling.
You develop lymphedema when the lymph vessels and/or lymph nodes are damaged, blocked, or removed during surgery. Lymph vessels may be damaged by:
Normally, the lymph vessels collect bacteria, viruses, and waste, and transport them to lymph nodes. The lymph nodes then filter out or destroy the substances and send them to be eliminated from your body.
The first and most obvious symptom is arm or leg swelling. The swelling can be severe and affect your fingers or toes. The swollen limb often develops additional symptoms such as:
Depending on the extent of the swelling, lymphedema makes it hard to use your arm or leg.
In many cases, your provider at Vascular Associates of San Diego can diagnose lymphedema based on your medical history and physical exam. If there’s any doubt, they perform more extensive diagnostic studies to rule out other causes of leg swelling such as chronic venous insufficiency and deep vein thrombosis.
Lymphedema treatment includes:
Compression garments are the first line of treatment. You may need to wear stretch bandages or prescription-strength compression stockings or gloves.
The pressure from these garments improves circulation through the lymph vessels and helps to alleviate or prevent swelling.
In the early stages of lymphedema, before your skin thickens, compression and elevating the limb may reverse the swelling.
Complete decongestive therapy includes a combination of manual lymphatic drainage (a type of therapeutic massage) and compression bandages. Your provider may also prescribe a compression pump that you can use at home.
It’s important to avoid injuring the affected arm or leg. You should avoid tight clothing, blood pressure cuffs, and injections or other procedures on the affected limb. Maintaining a healthy body weight and getting daily exercise also helps keep the swelling down.
If your lymphedema is severe or doesn’t improve with conservative therapies, you may need surgery. Though it’s not common to suggest surgery for lymphedema, your provider may consider it to remove excess tissue or bypass damaged lymph vessels.
If you need compassionate care for lymphedema, call Vascular Associates of San Diego, or schedule an appointment online.