Lymphoedema refers to swelling that generally occurs in one of your arms or legs. Sometimes both arms, both legs and even the groin area swell.
Lymphoedema is caused either by the removal of or damage to your lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment or by the filariasis roundworms.
It results from a blockage in your lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system.
The blockage prevents lymph fluid from draining well, and the fluid buildup leads to swelling.
There’s no cure for lymphoedema. But it can be managed with early diagnosis and diligent care of your affected limb.
Lymphoedema signs and symptoms, which occur in your affected arm or leg, include:
• Swelling of part or all of your arm or leg, including fingers or toes
• A feeling of heaviness or tightness
• Restricted range of motion
• Aching or discomfort
• Recurring infections
• Hardening and thickening of the skin (fibrosis)
Lymphoedema in your arm or leg can lead to serious complications, such as:
• Infections: Possible infections that can result from lymphoedema include a serious bacterial infection of the skin and an infection of the lymph vessels.
The smallest injury to your arm or leg can be an entry point for infection.
• Lymphangiosarcoma: This rare form of soft tissue cancer can result from the most-severe cases of untreated lymphoedema. Possibly include blue-red or purple marks on the skin.
There’s no cure for lymphoedema. However, the methods below are adapted in order to manage the condition:
• Exercises: Light exercises in which you move your affected limb may encourage lymph fluid drainage and help prepare you for everyday tasks, such as carrying groceries.
Exercises shouldn’t be strenuous or tire you but should focus on gentle contraction of the muscles in your arm or leg.
• Wrapping your arm or leg: Bandaging your entire limb encourages lymph fluid to flow back toward the trunk of your body. The bandage should be tightest around your fingers or toes and loosen as it moves up your arm or leg.
• Massage: A special massage technique called manual lymph drainage may encourage the flow of lymph fluid out of your arm or leg.
• Pneumatic compression: A sleeve worn over your affected arm or leg connects to a pump that intermittently inflates the sleeve, putting pressure on your limb and moving lymph fluid away from your fingers or toes.
• Compression garments: Long sleeves or stockings made to compress your arm or leg encourage the flow of the lymph fluid out of your affected limb. Wear a compression garment when exercising the affected limb.
Majority of the lymphoedema cases in Tanzania are caused by the filariasis worm found in mosquitos. One of the biggest challenges with the disease is accessible management.