Lymphedema - Experience

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What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema is swelling in one or more extremities that results from impaired flow of the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system is a network of specialized vessels (lymph vessels) throughout the body whose purpose is to collect excess lymph fluid with proteins, lipids, and waste products from the tissues. This fluid is then carried to the lymph nodes, which filter waste products and contain infection-fighting cells called lymphocytes. The excess fluid in the lymph vessels is eventually returned to the bloodstream. When the lymph vessels are blocked or unable to carry lymph fluid away from the tissues, localized swelling (lymphedema) is the result.

Lymphedema most often affects a single arm or leg, but in uncommon situations both limbs are affected.

  • Primary lymphedema is the result of an anatomical abnormality of the lymph vessels and is a rare, inherited condition.
  • Secondary lymphedema results from an identifiable damage to or obstruction of normally-functioning lymph vessels and nodes.
  • Worldwide, lymphedema is most commonly caused by filariasis (a parasite infection), but in the U.S., lymphedema most commonly occurs in women who have had breast cancer surgery, particularly when followed by radiation treatment.
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See what others are saying

Comment from: Luika, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: September 02

I really don't know when the lymphedema started. I diagnosed myself when I read an article. I researched, saw a picture of lymphedema and it was so eerie to be looking at my legs. I have worn black pants for years and can't wear shorts. People stare at my fat and jiggly legs. My husband can't touch my legs because they hurt to be touched. It is so embarrassing to look, so masculine with such huge legs. I made an appointment to see my doctor to begin treatment today.

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Comment from: nancy, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: November 16

I had right breast cancer in 2010. I had little trouble with lymphedema until last third of 2015. I had 12 cancerous glands removed. Yesterday I spiked a temperature of 103.4. I had the most miserable night, excruciating pain, burning, swelling and heat. Swelling was 5 inch large in upper arm and 3 inch large in forearm. The doctor put me on Cipro and it is getting better. I should have gone to the emergency room but was too incoherent! It's hard when you live alone.

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