House Call: Lymphedema Pt. 1

Published: May. 24, 2023 at 1:41 PM EDT
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BRIDGEPORT, W.Va (WDTV) - Welcome back to UHC’s House Call on WDTV. Ginny Vincent, Occupational Therapist and Certified Lymphedema Therapist at United Rehab, talks about what you need to know about lymphedema.

1). What is lymphedema and how do you know if you have it?

Lymphedema is a condition that results in swelling of the leg or arm. It occurs due to blockage in the lymphatic system which is part of the immune system. Urgent medical attention is recommended.

If you have recently undergone breast cancer treatment, have scars from burns, radiation, injuries, or surgery, you may be experiencing lymphedema. If you experience discomfort, tingling, swelling, limited movement, heaviness of the arm or leg, or pain due to poor circulation, this is another indication of a positive lymphedema diagnosis.

2). Why do so many women experience lymphedema?

A breast cancer diagnosis provokes tremendous fear and anxiety. Couple that with treatment – chemotherapy, radiation, or mastectomy – and many women experience even more stress and anxiety.

Afterward, most survivors feel so happy to be alive that they do not think twice about the side effects of treatment, such as lymphedema. However, approximately 20 percent of breast cancer survivors – nearly 400,000 American women – develop the lymphedema. Following an initial evaluation by a certified lymphedema therapist, treatment recommendations will be made.

3). How does lymphedema begin?

Removing lymph nodes is an important part of the breast cancer treatment. This allows doctors to determine whether cancer has spread from its primary site. Without these nodes, women are at increased risk for lymphedema – the build-up of lymphatic fluid in the tissue. Trauma that causes scarring can damage parts of the lymphatic system. This increases risk of developing secondary lymphedema. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Full sensation in the limb(s)
  • Tight skin
  • Decreased hand, wrist, or ankle flexibility
  • Difficult fitting into clothing

If left untreated, lymphedema can lead to serious infections.