What is chronic swelling?
As a normal part of your blood circulation, your vascular system leaks fluid into the surrounding tissues. Your body’s lymphatic system is responsible for collections of this fluid. Edema, or swelling, occurs when an abnormal buildup of fluid occurs in the body. Mild, temporary edema can be caused by many factors, but lasting edema may be a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition. Diseases that may cause lasting or chronic edema include congestive heart failure, kidney and liver disease, chronic venous insufficiency, and lymphedema.
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a chronic, progressive condition in which excessive protein-rich fluids accumulate in the interstitium, the space between cells. The condition occurs from impairment of the lymphatic system’s ability to drain fluids and proteins from the spaces in between the cells and transport this fluid, known as lymph, back to the circulatory system. A compromised or non-functioning lymphatic system places the patient at risk of medical complications including recurrent skin infections know as cellulitis.
Symptoms of Lymphedema
- Unusual swelling (edema)
- Swelling of the dorsum of the foot
- Swollen or squared-off toes
- Heaviness or tightness in the affected limb(s)
- Restricted range of motion
- Lymph fluid discharge from the skin (lymphorrhea)
- Skin Changes
- “Orange peel” skin appearance
- Thick, rigid skin (hyperkeratosis and fibrosis)
- Bumpy wrinkling of the skin (papillomatosis)
- Ulcerations of the skin
Treatment of Lymphedema
There is currently no cure for lymphedema. Untreated lymphedema can worsen, leading to increased swelling and pain, progressive hardening of affected tissues (fibrosis), and recurrent infections (cellulitis). Lymphedema can decrease mobility, dexterity, range of motion and the ability to perform daily activities. It also may significantly increase the cost of healthcare. However, effective management of symptoms is possible. Proper diagnosis of the condition is often critical to achieving effective treatment.
Management of lymphedema is achieved with a combination of therapist directed in clinic treatment and at-home self-management with a pneumatic compression device, With effective treatment, patients can manage their symptoms, minimize infections, improve their health and quality of life.