Lymphedema is considered abnormal swelling (edema) that occurs when the lymphatic system does not develop properly, is damaged, or is overloaded. Lymphedema is a chronic and degenerative condition that currently cannot be cured. It can be managed through prompt and ongoing treatments to reduce swelling in the affected area, minimize the risk of infections, and slow adverse tissue changes.
There are two main classifications of lymphedema that are distinguished based on the origin of the condition:
- Primary Lymphedema (PLE)is caused by abnormal development of lymphatic vessels and nodes. Swelling can occur at any age but is most commonly observed during puberty, and less common seen at birth or after age 35; primary lymphedema affects both sexes and may affect upper and lower extremities; it is seen most frequently in females with swelling in one or both legs that begins at the foot and progresses up toward the trunk.
- Secondary Lymphedema (SLE) is an acquired disorder caused by obstruction, interruption, or functional impairment of the lymphatic system. Circulatory problems and cancer treatment are the most common causes of SLE in North America; other causes include injuries, burns, surgical scars, and tropical parasites. Swelling in secondary lymphedema most commonly affects one or both arms or legs but it can develop anywhere on the body; swelling frequently starts near the damaged lymphatic structures and extends out.
There is so much to learn when you receive a diagnosis of lymphedema, and very few resources to choose from in order to understand lymphedema, and care and treat it. That care and treatment responsibility ultimately falls to a caregiver, who is responsible for the skin treatments, assisting with activities of daily living, assisting with applying and removing compression bandages, managing supplies and aids, encouraging daily decongestive exercises, managing medications, and supporting new dietary habits, as well as providing emotional care and support.
The Lymphedema Caregivers Guide is an essential comprehensive guide for any family that receives a diagnosis of lymphedema. The guide is filled with 450 pages of information, providing an overview of lymphedema, step by step instructions with pictures for many needed treatments and exercises, prevention suggestions, information on communication strategies, and helpful advice for caregivers on managing supplies and equipment, arranging and managing care, as well as advice on caring for the caregiver.
Article written using information from Lymphedema Caregivers Guide, with written permission from Lymphedema Caregivers.com and LymphNotes.com. Visit these websites as online information resources and support groups for those with lymphedema, their family, friends, and professional health care workers.