Lymphedema is a condition in which excess protein-rich ﬂuid (lymph) collects in tissues under the skin and causes swelling (edema) and sometimes hardening (fibrosis) of the soft tissues.
Depending on its cause, lymphedema can affect any part of the body. It can affect the arms, legs, face and neck, breast and torso, and genitals. Lymphedema is not necessarily painful, but can be uncomfortable. Having lymphedema may put you at risk of serious skin infections called cellulitis or erysipelas. Our Specialist Lymphedema Physiotherapist can help treat this condition with the internationally recognized standard of care Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT).
The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system and plays a vital role in the immune responses of the body. It is responsible for clearing the body’s excess fluid and unwanted substances such as complex proteins. These substances, along with the excess fluid can accumulate anywhere in the body and cause lymphedema if the lymphatic system is not functioning well. It can cause fibrosis (hardening) of the soft tissues. In addition, the lymphatic system also monitors for the presence of bacteria and viruses whilst housing white blood cells that are used for producing antibodies to fight disease.
Surgical removal or radiation treatment to the lymph nodes puts the body at risk of developing lymphedema. Even the minimally invasive Sentinel Node Biopsy procedure does not eliminate the risk of lymphedema entirely, although it will significantly reduce the risk. In addition, infection or physical trauma to the lymph nodes can damage the system. Some people are born with a lymphatic system that is not working properly resulting in lymphedema that can start early in life, or well into adulthood.
People have a higher chance of developing lymphedema when they have experienced the following: