Infographic: Lymphedema

WHAT IS THE LYMPHATIC SYSTEM?

The lymphatic system is a drainage system that helps move fluid (lymph) through vessels and lymph nodes in the body. The lymph gets filtered and excess is eliminated, helping balance fluid in the body.


1. WHAT IS LYMPHEDEMA?

Lymphedema is a type of swelling that occurs when the lymphatic system has been compromised. Lymph fluid cannot flow properly and a backup occurs. Lymphedema usually is seen in the limbs but can occur anywhere in the body.

2. WHAT DOES IT LOOK AND FEEL LIKE?

Lymphedema shows up as swelling. A part of the body is enlarged from an accumulation of fluid. People might describe a feeling of heaviness, fullness or of the skin feeling tight. There could be less ability to move well and clothes may not fit as well.

3. WHO GET'S IT?

Lymphedema is something that you can be born with or you can develop from an injury or problem with your lymphatic system. Many cancer treatments can compromise the lymphatic system (lymph nodes removed or injured) which can increase the risk for developing lymphedema.

4. IS IT CONTAGIOUS?

No! Lymphedema is not contagious. You cannot get it from another person.

5. IS THERE A CURE FOR IT?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for lymphedema. The condition is progressive and, if untreated, permanent tissue changes can occur. The long term effects of lymphedema are more effectively managed if the condition is diagnosed early, before chronic changes can occur.

6. HOW DO I REDUCE THE RISK?

  • Report to your health care provider any change in your at-risk body part (ie. increase in size, change in sensation, color, temperature, or skin condition).
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise.
  • Maintain good skin care practices.
  • Avoid trauma - this includes, bug bites, sunburn, cuts, scratches, falls etc. 

7. HOW DO WE TREAT IT?

Lymphedema is managed using a combination of treatments known as "Complex Decongestive Therapy" (CDT). It involves lymphatic drainage, compression therapy (bandaging or garments), education, skin care and exercise.
If you are at risk or have lymphedema, you should seek the care of a CDT therapist. This person will be trained specifically to provide safe and effective treatment.