Lymphedema: Understanding the Causes, Symptoms and Treatments Options

Lymphedema: Understanding the Causes, Symptoms and Treatments Options

North Atlanta Vascular Clinic and Vein Center


Lymphedema is tissue swelling caused by a buildup of protein-rich fluid normally released by the body's lymphatic system. It usually affects the arms or legs, although it can also affect the chest wall, belly, neck, and genitals. According to research, primary lymphedema affects 1 in 100,000 individuals, whereas secondary lymphedema affects approximately 1 in 1000 Americans.

You will be surprised to know that our lymphatic and venous systems are inextricably connected within the body. If one is damaged, the symptoms are comparable. This is because the lymphatic system is a vital part of our immune system. Lymph channels remove fluid from tissues, whereas arteries and veins control blood circulation throughout the body. When lymphedema occurs, your veins are negatively affected. In this blog, you will learn more about lymphedema and everything entailing this condition.

Causes and Risk Factors

Lymphedema can be categorized as primary or secondary. Primary lymphedema, which is less frequent, develops due to malformations in the lymphatic system present at birth. Secondary lymphedema, the more common form, arises from damage or blockage in the lymphatic vessels or nodes. Here are some risk factors for secondary lymphedema:

  • Cancer Treatment: Surgery and radiation therapy for cancer, particularly involving lymph node removal, can damage the lymphatic system.
  • Infection: Parasitic infections, especially filariasis, can obstruct lymphatic vessels.
  • Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI): When valves in the veins malfunction, blood pooling and increased pressure can sometimes affect the lymphatic system and contribute to lymphedema.
  • Obesity: Excess weight can put extra strain on the lymphatic system, increasing the risk of lymphedema.
  • Trauma or injury: Damage to lymph vessels or nodes due to injury or surgery can disrupt lymph flow and lead to lymphedema.

Signs & Symptoms of Lymphedema

Early detection of lymphedema is crucial for effective management. Here are some common signs and symptoms to watch out for:

  • Swelling in an arm or leg, typically on one side
  • Aching or discomfort in the affected area
  • Tightness or restricted movement in the affected limb
  • Skin thickening or pitting (indentations that remain after pressure)
  • Recurring infections in the affected area

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Diagnosis of lymphedema typically involves a physical examination, measurements of the affected limb, and imaging tests like ultrasound or lymphoscintigraphy. Treatment focuses on managing the swelling and preventing complications.

  • Decongestive Lymphatic Therapy (DLT): This is the cornerstone of treatment, involving specialized massage techniques and compression garments to promote fluid drainage.
  • Compression Therapy: Wearing compression garments like sleeves or stockings helps reduce swelling and maintain fluid balance.
  • Pneumatic Compression Pump: In some cases, a device inflating a sleeve around the affected limb may be used to improve drainage.
  • Surgery: In severe cases, surgery may be considered to remove excess tissue or create new lymphatic pathways.

Prevention Tips for Lymphedema

Preventing lymphedema entails lowering the likelihood of developing the condition, especially in individuals who are at a higher risk due to various treatments, surgeries, or other medical disorders. While it is not always feasible to completely avoid, there are ways in which you can reduce the risk and manage this condition more effectively.

Following are some of the prevention tips:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Practice good skin hygiene to prevent infections
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing or constricting jewellery
  • Be cautious when shaving or trimming nails on the affected limb

When Should You Seek Medical Attention?

If you experience any signs or symptoms suggestive of lymphedema, consult your doctor promptly. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve your quality of life and prevent further complications.

Final Thoughts

While lymphedema is a chronic condition, there's hope in managing its symptoms and preventing complications. Early diagnosis and consistent therapy with compression garments, manual lymphatic drainage, and skin care can significantly improve your quality of life. Talk to your doctor if you experience swelling, discomfort, or limited mobility. Early intervention is critical to managing lymphedema and maintaining a healthy lifestyle effectively.

Get Effective Lymphedema Treatment at North Atlanta Vascular Clinic!

Does chronic swelling impact your life? North Atlanta Vascular Clinic offers expert care for lymphedema. Our experienced specialists create personalized treatment plans to manage symptoms and improve your well-being. Contact us today to learn more about our services.


North Atlanta Vascular Clinic and Vein Center

North Atlanta Vascular Clinic is a vascular surgery center located in Suwanee, Cumming, Alpharetta, and Lawrenceville, Georgia. Our vein disease specialists offer a comprehensive examination that includes a physical examination, review of your symptoms, and discussion of your medical history. We use advanced venography techniques and provide effective treatment for several health conditions like DVT, Spider Veins, Leg Cramps, MTS, and more. Contact us to get accurate diagnosis and treatment for all your vascular diseases.

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