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Lymphedema or lymphatic dysfunction refers to the dysfunction of your lymphatic system, which causes swelling in the legs or arms. The lymphatic system is made up of lymph nodes and lymph vessels that drain fluids from your body's tissues. Subsequently, when the lymph nodes are damaged or removed as a part of cancer treatment, the condition tends to develop  .
The condition develops from a blockage in your lymphatic system, as the blockage prevents the lymph fluid from draining well and hence, leading to fluid buildup and swelling. Apart from this, lymphedema can also result from a variety of complex genetic conditions, diseases and injuries.
Types Of Lymphedema
There are two types of lymphedema - hereditary or primary lymphedema and secondary lymphedema  .
- Hereditary (primary) lymphedema: Less common than secondary lymphedema, you are more likely to develop the condition, if a family member also has it. Milroy disease and Meige disease are classified as primary lymphedema.
- Secondary lymphedema: This type of condition is commonly reported and treatment for breast cancer with a mastectomy is one of the most common causes of secondary lymphedema  .
Causes Of Lymphedema
The reasons behind the rare and inherited condition, primary lymphedema are as follows  :
- Milroy's disease
- Meige's disease
- Late-onset lymphedema
The causes of secondary lymphedema are as follows  :
- Radiation treatment for cancer
Symptoms Of Lymphedema
The common signs of the condition are as follows  :
- Swelling of part or all of your arm or leg, including fingers or toes
- Hardening and thickening of the skin
- Aching or discomfort
- Recurring infections
- Restricted range of motion
- A feeling of heaviness or tightness
- Skin discolouration
- Ear pain
Consequently, the condition can cause the difficulty with the following too:
- Breathing (nasal congestion)
The symptoms of secondary lymphedema can appear any time after surgery, with some appearing within several months to a few years after surgery.
Risk Factors Of Lymphedema
- Excess weight or obesity
- Rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis
- Older age
Diagnosis Of Lymphedema
If you have recently had cancer surgery involving your lymph nodes, the doctor may diagnose lymphedema based on your signs and symptoms  .
If the cause of your lymphedema is not obvious, you will be required to undergo the following tests:
- MRI scan
- CT scan
- Radionuclide imaging of your lymphatic system (lymphoscintigraphy)
- Doppler ultrasound
Complications Of Lymphedema
Lymphedema in your arm or leg can lead to serious complications such as bacterial infection of the skin (cellulitis) and infection of the lymph vessels (lymphangitis). It can also lead to lymphangiosarcoma, a rare form of soft tissue cancer  .
Treatment For Lymphedema
Currently, there are no cures developed for the condition. The treatment measures focus on reducing the swelling and controlling the pain, and they are as follows  :
- Pneumatic compression
- Compression garments
- Complete decongestive therapy (CDT)
- Routine skincare
- Limb exercises
- Lymphatic drainage massage
Apart from these, wrapping your arm or leg using a bandage and performing light exercises can be beneficial in managing the condition  .
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