A Disease Impacting Millions, known by few
Lymphoedema is a life-long chronic condition in which excess fluid, known as lymph, collects in tissues causing a swelling, known as oedema. The swelling is caused by a blockage of the lymphatic system due to the absence of lymph vessels or a dysfunction of the lymphatic system.
The lymphatics form part of your immune system, helping to deal with infection at a local level, but just as importantly, they are responsible for cleansing your tissues and maintaining a balance of fluids in your body. It can be likened to a waste disposal system, taking tissue fluid, bacteria, proteins and waste products, away from the tissues around the skin, fat, muscle and bone. If, for whatever reason, the lymphatic system is not working correctly (such as a result of damage, trauma or surgery) or the vessels do not have the ability to drain adequately, the fluid in the tissues builds up (as when a river is dammed and flooding occurs). Swelling occurs when the amount of fluid in an area is greater than the capacity of the lymphatic system to transport it away. Lymphoedema [lim-fa-dee-mah] can therefore be defined as “an abnormal accumulation of protein rich fluid in the tissues”. The swelling can be in any part of the body, most often in the arms and legs, but also the breast or chest wall, head and neck, or genitals.
Lymphoedema has no known cure. However, with correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment, there is much that can be done to help manage and effectively control the symptoms. Left untreated, the condition will deteriorate leading to an increase in swelling. Many people experience swelling for months, even years, before assessment, diagnosis and treatment are initiated. It is important to understand the condition so you can manage your lymphoedema as effectively as possible.
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