For a start, let’s know what lymphedema is.
‘Lymphedema’ refers to the aggregation of lymph fluids in a specific region of the body.
For instance, it can occur if there was once a high trauma injury that damaged the lymph nodes. It can also occur in a limb that may have been infected by tumor and has had the nodes removed.
Majorly, it has high tendency of occurring after a traumatic injury, or after a bout with an infection, after a cancer treatment, after surgery or if the nodes of the lymph have been removed.
Unlike the heart does for the circulatory system, this lymphatic vessel system does not possess its own personalized ‘pumping system’. It actually depends on some forces like the pulsation by the arteries, muscle contractions, peristalsis and diaphragmatic breathing.
If the lymphatic system is overwhelmed by factors like surgery, or radiation, or disease, trauma or any abnormal developments, swelling may occur in the abdomen, legs and arms.
Is the Lymphatic system vital?
Yes it is! Unfortunately, many people are ignorant of the fact that this system is actually part of the immune system; and it is its primary responsibility to send forth cells that fight infections to areas that need such aid: E.g. a sharp cut on the forearm.
Lymphedema affects how many people?
Statistics have shown that up to three million Americans in the U.S are affected by lymphedema.
Is there a cure for Lymphedema?
At the moment, there is no definite cure for lymphedema. It can only be managed via a special technique known as MLD, or Manual Lymphatic Drainage. This technique involves the slow, soft and systematic stretching of the client’s skin to stimulate the lymphatic nodes and vessels.
This stretching activity induces the uptake of fluid back into the lymphatic channels and then through the nodes. Via MLD therapies, alternative routes are created by redirecting immobile fluids to the lymphatic vessels and lymphatic nodes.
Other treatment processes for lymphedema may involve special individual exercise, lymphatic drainage, self-care orientation and also compression garments. The affected subject’s diagnosis and response to treatment eventually would determine the kind of treatment to be administered.
Now, let’s consider more about how this MLD came into being.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage, MLD was invented by two people, Dr. Emil and Estrid Vodder in the European continent during the 1930s. MLD is actually a very good and safe way to clean up the body’s tissues, by detoxifying the body and draining the excess fluids.
MLD is also beneficial to normal, healthy individuals. It can also be used to alleviate over 60 known medical conditions including edemas, swellings, pre- and post-surgery, sinusitis, fibromyalgia, burns and headaches, Chronic fatigue, etc.
MLD also helps in the elimination of toxins, proteins, non-self agents, as well as waste products of metabolism from the tissues of the body.
MLD has been proven to be a good stress reliever, as well as a relaxant of the sympathetic nervous system. It has also been shown to promote body-healing processes, especially when one is recovering from a wound/injury, or a surgery. It also functions in minimizing the formation of scars.
Why wasn’t I told about the tendency for Lymphedema before my surgery?
It’s quite unfortunate that there is not much knowledge about the lymphatic system. As a result, not many doctors are aware of the condition called Lymphedema. Thankfully, however, several medical schools have begun creating awareness about the condition; and also, knowledge about it is spreading fast all over the country. Remember we now know every March to be Lymphedema awareness month.
I survived breast cancer: what is my tendency of developing Lymphedema?
At the moment, there is a lifetime risk of 15 to 25 percent, for individuals who have had their axillary lymph nodes dissected.
What should you do if you have the tendency of developing it? Or…maybe you have already confirmed it within your body?
Well, anybody who has had some form of node dissection is at risk; as well as a number of those who have undergone radiation therapy. It should be noted that Lymphedema can be triggered right after an operation, or within a few weeks to months, or even up to twenty years or over. However, it would do well to remember that given the right information and skillful maintenance, Lymphedema can be properly managed, and it can even also be avoided altogether.
Below are a few guidelines that might be useful in pre-operative preparations and processes:
Be careful and observe if there is an increase in the swelling in your abdomen, genitals, toes, feet or ankles.
Always wear on a ‘Lymphedema alert necklace’. Ensure that you keep the affected part from all injections or blood draws.
Preserve the ‘susceptible’ area clean at all times. You could make use of ‘Lymphoderm’ or ‘Eucerin’ after having your bath. Gently dry the affected part thoroughly.
If the affected part is your leg(s), desist from vigorous movements and activities against resistance with the leg(s): and as a rule, do not wear stockings or underwear that have tight elastic bands!
Research at Stanford University (1)
Hildegard Wittlinger, Vodder School, Walchsee, Austria