Lymphoedema refers to a condition which causes limb swelling, usually one or both legs, but sometimes affecting the upper limbs. The cause is impaired drainage of fluid from the peripheries. A blood like substance called lymph normally drains from body tissues, into the venous system, through channels called lymphatics. When these channels do not develop properly, or become damaged in the course of one’s lifetime, then fluid accumulates in the tissues resulting in swelling.
Cause: There are several classification systems for lymphoedema, but the simplest classification denotes the condition as primary or secondary. Primary, when there is a congenital or developmental abnormality resulting in a deficient system of lymphatic channels. These are often genetically based; there is often a family history of limb swelling. Lymphoedema is termed secondary, when the cause of the lymphoedema is due to damage sustained for example by a surgical procedure, by trauma or by radiation treatment. Some patients have a primary abnormality of lymphatic drainage, but might have a precipitating event such as trauma or infection which will precipitate the limb swelling for the first time.
Treatment: Compression stocking are the mainstay of treatment. Education on the condition and taking the necessary steps to control and prevent limb swelling on a daily basis, make lymphoedema a manageable condition which does not impact on quality of life for most patients. In more severe cases a program known as complex decongestive therapy is required to reduce swelling. This includes manual lymphatic drainage treatment, instruction on skin care and principles of elevation, and exercise programme and compression bandaging.