It's true that lymphedema is rare. Statistics show that the primary condition only affects 1 in 100,000 people throughout the United States.
It's a condition that causes swelling due to a blockage or damage in the lymphatic system. Sometimes, though, it can specifically target a person's legs.
If you're wondering, "what causes lymphedema in the legs?" you've come to the right article. Below is your beginner's guide to this medical condition and how it affects some people's legs.
The Lymphatic System
This medical condition affects a targeted component of the body. The lymphatic system is a network of vessels, nodes, and organs. Its purpose is to help the body get rid of waste and toxins.
It's part of the immune system and works closely with the circulatory system. Lymphatic vessels carry a fluid called lymph. This contains white blood cells that fight infection.
Lymph nodes act as filters, trapping and destroying harmful substances. The spleen, thymus, and tonsils are other organs involved in the lymphatic system.
The bodily system also plays a role in maintaining fluid balance in the body. When the system is not functioning properly, it can lead to conditions like lymphedema.
Primary vs. Secondary Lymphedema
Lymphedema manifests as swelling in a part of the body. This is usually an arm or a leg enlarging due to a buildup of lymph fluid. There are two types of lymphedema: primary and secondary.
Primary lymphedema is a genetic condition. It occurs when the lymphatic system is underdeveloped or absent.
This type can be present at birth or develop later in life. Primary lymphedema is less common than secondary lymphedema.
Secondary lymphedema is more common. It's caused by damage to the lymphatic system.
The most common cause is cancer treatment. During that process, lymph nodes can be removed or damaged by radiation. Other causes of secondary lymphedema include infection, injury, or surgery.
Primary lymphedema has three types. These include congenital lymphedema, lymphedema praecox, and lymphedema tarda.
Secondary lymphedema doesn't have subtypes. Still, its original cause can determine the severity and location of the lymphedema.
What Causes Lymphedema in the Legs?
Symptoms of lymphedema in the legs can include swelling, heaviness, pain, and skin changes. This can be caused by either primary or secondary lymphedema.
It's important to work with a medical professional to get a better understanding of your specific condition. If you're still asking, "What causes lymphedema in the legs?", they can help you.
The good news is that a diagnosis doesn't have to be too stressful. Whether the cause is genetic or environmental, there are ways to treat this condition.
Risk Factors for Lymphedema
Risk factors are things that increase the likelihood of developing a certain condition. For lymphedema in the legs, several risk factors have been identified.
These include obesity, which can put extra pressure on the lymphatic system. Inactivity can also lead to lymphedema. Movement helps the lymphatic system function properly.
Infections can cause the condition by damaging the lymphatic system. Also, trauma like surgery or injury can disrupt the flow of lymphatic fluid.
Additionally, some medical conditions can increase the risk of lymphedema. These might include cancer, lymphoma, and venous insufficiency. Certain medications, like steroids, can also increase the risk of lymphedema.
Symptoms to Watch For
The swelling of your body parts due to lymphedema can range from mild to severe. It's usually the first indicator that the condition or something else might be an issue.
The affected limb may feel heavy or full. There may also be a sensation of tightness or pressure.
The skin may appear thickened, too. You might notice a dimpled or pitted texture, and you may feel warm or tender to the touch. In some cases, the skin may become red or discolored. As an unfortunate result, infections may occur.
Movement and physical activity may also be limited due to the swelling. Lastly, there may be discomfort or pain.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it's important to speak with your doctor. This is the only way to get the proper diagnosis and treatment. Connect with them as soon as you can to prevent the condition from worsening.
Diagnosis of Lymphedema
An official diagnosis of lymphedema is usually made through a physical exam and medical history. Your doctor will look for physical signs first. Examples would be swelling, skin changes, and other symptoms.
Imaging tests like an ultrasound or MRI may be ordered, too. These are used to visualize the lymphatic system.
A diagnosis of lymphedema may also involve ruling out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. For instance, your doctor might just want to ensure you don't have vein thrombosis or heart failure.
Lymphedema treatment typically involves a combination of therapies. Compression therapy involves wearing tight stockings or bandages. This can help reduce swelling by applying pressure to the affected limb.
Exercise is also important to improve lymphatic flow and promote circulation. Manual lymphatic drainage, a type of massage, can help move lymphatic fluid, too.
In some cases, surgery may be needed. The surgeons would remove excess tissue or repair damaged lymphatic vessels.
Proper skin care is also important to prevent infection and skin changes. Treatment for lymphedema is typically ongoing, too.
That's why it's important to work closely with your healthcare team to develop a plan that works best for you. You might even consider visiting a health care and rehabilitation center.
Perhaps you have a high risk of developing lymphedema. In your case, preventative care is of particular value for your long-term health.
Start with maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise. These habits can help reduce the strain on the lymphatic system. Avoiding injury or trauma to the legs can also help prevent damage to lymphatic vessels.
If you've had cancer treatment, it's essential to follow any recommended precautions to prevent lymphedema. Remember, keep your healthcare professional in the loop at any sign or risk of this condition.
Continue Your Research
With the above guide, you now have a better answer to "what causes lymphedema in the legs?". In addition, it's smart to continue your research about these conditions and more. So, continue to follow our blog articles so you can stay well-informed.