CDT TRAINED 13 years

Primary & Secondary Lymphedema

The lymphatic system is made up of organs, vessels, and nodes that work together to produce and transport lymphatic fluid from your tissues to your bloodstream, block and filter toxins, and generally defend your body from disease and infection. When this system is compromised, due to damaged or missing lymphatic nodes or vessels, lymphedema can occur. 

There are two types: 

Primary Lymphedema is caused by a developmental abnormality to the lymphatic system; symptoms may present immediately at birth or later in life (most commonly around puberty).  

Secondary Lymphedema is the result of physical trauma to the lymphatic system after birth. The most common causes are surgery (e.g. lymph node biopsies or dissections), radiation therapy, cancer itself (if directly blocking the lymphatics), and infection.  

Most often, it occurs in the arms and legs but it can also occur in other areas of the body such as the chest, neck, head, and pelvic region.  It is very dependent on where in the body the lymphatic system has been damaged.

Common signs and symptoms of lymphedema include:

  • Feelings of heaviness, tightness, aching, or itching in the affected area
  • Clothing fitting more tightly than usual 
  • Jewellery and rings not fitting
  • Visible swelling 
  • Pitting edema (your fingerprint stays behind after pressing on the body part)
  • Skin thickness or hardness (fibrosis)

At this time, there is no cure. It is a lifelong condition and, if left untreated, will likely progress over time. However, with the guidance of healthcare professionals trained and certified in lymphedema management, there are a variety of treatment options available.  

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The information provided on this website is offered for educational purposes only and is based on the personal and professional knowledge of the author. Nothing on this website is offered as a substitute for medical care or to negate or replace any previously given medical instruction by a licensed or certified health care provider. Beth Hoag is Canadian-licenced physical therapist. By reading this material and/or registering or purchasing an online product or service, you acknowledge that you are not entering into an agreement for personal training, professional coaching, clinical health or direct physiotherapy care. You also acknowledge that you are free to make your own healthcare decisions.

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