The lymphatic system is an extensive drainage system that returns water, waste, proteins and toxins from various tissues back to the blood stream. This system helps to defend the body against invasion from disease-causing agents such as viruses, bacteria or fungi. Lymphedema is a chronic condition that causes swelling, usually in the arms and legs that can be due to genetics, blockage or a dysfunction in the lymphatic system.

Dysfunction can develop from lymph node dissection of the axilla or inguinal lymph nodes, trauma, infection, malignant tumors, surgical procedures, immobility or chronic venous insufficiency. Many people mistake lymphedema for being overweight, and do not seek treatment. Yet, lymphedema will not go away, regardless of how much weight a person may lose.

Both Primary Lymphedema and Secondary Lymphedema usually progress through a series of stages. That's why it's important to get help right away, even if your initial symptoms don't seem like a big deal. Early symptoms of lymphedema include:

  • Progressive swelling
  • Indentation from socks, shoes, rings or clothes
  • Feeling of heaviness of tightness
  • Restricted ranges of motion in your affected limbs
  • Throbbing and discomfort
  • Recurring infections in affected limb
  • Hardening or thickening of skin
  • Numbness or tingling feeling

Stages of lymphedema:

  • Stage 0: Latent Stage - Swelling may not be visible, but there is a feeling of numbness/tingling. There may also be a discomfort or fullness in the limb. Even though this stage can be reversed, this stage can also last months or years before serious signs begin to appear.
  • Stage 1: Reversible Stage - The affected limb may begin to show signs of swelling. Pitting or indentation is easily recognized (indentations will stay in skin for some time). Because the skin hasn't permanently been damaged at this point, Stage 1 may also be reversed.
  • Stage 2: Spontaneously Irreversible Lymphedema - Swelling increases and elevation, or overnight resting, does not alter the level of swelling. Overtime, the tissue may begin to harden, or become fibrotic, making it more difficult to cause indentation. The risk of infection increases in stage 2.
  • Stage 3: Lymphostatic Stage or "Elephantitis" - Swelling is largely increase and irreversible. Limb tissue becomes more fibrotic. Pitting is absent, skin thickens and folds develop.

If you suspect that you may have any of the early stages of lymphedema, consult your physician or call 529-7930 to speak with EIRMC's Certified Lymphedema Therapist to see if you might be a candidate for Lymphedema Therapy.