Lymphoedema is swelling of the leg due to a build up of fluid (known as lymph) that does not drain out properly. Normally, this fluid drains out of the leg via a network of tubes (lymphatics).
Initially, the swelling is noticeable at the end of the day and goes down overnight. Unless the swelling is treated properly, the fluid becomes ‘fixed’ in the leg permanently. This leads to fat and fibrous tissue increasing, the skin becoming thickened, uncomfortable and unsightly. If not kept under control, lymphoedema can lead to complications such as cracks in the skin, infection (cellulitis), blisters and ulceration.
What causes lymphoedema?
The most common cause is simply being born without sufficient lymphatics! In this case, lymphoedema is more likely to develop with age.
It can also be caused if the lymphatics of the arm or leg are damaged by surgery, or radiotherapy.
How is lymphoedema diagnosed?
The condition is diagnosed through one or more of the following ways; the patients’ history, examination, ultrasound and an investigation called lymphangioscintigraphy, which measures the speed at which fluid is transported by the lymphatics.
How is it treated?
Once diagnosed, Mr Jacob will be able to treat your lymphoedema with the intention of controlling it so that complications do not occur at a later stage.
The main treatments are compression bandages or stockings, elevation of the limb, antibiotics and external pneumatic compression, which is a type of boot that inflated and deflates to squeeze fluid out of the leg.
If I have lymphoedema, how can I help myself?
- wear compression stockings every day, from morning to night
- elevate your legs whenever possible
- take plenty of exercise
- do not become overweight
- moisturise the skin to prevent dryness