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.

It has been estimated that worldwide, there are 140 to 250 million people affected by lymphedema.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: donna, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: July 26

I had a Medtronic morphine pump removed and was left with lymphedema.

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Comment from: MINK, 25-34 Female (Patient) Published: August 20

I developed lymphedema after surgery to remove a lump in my right arm. I continue to have issues but the sleeve I was fitted for by a specialist works. It has been 10 years since the surgery, and the swelling and pain still get so bad that I cry.

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