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Lymphedemain 6 questions

What is lymphedema?

(pronounced limf-e-d-ma)

Lymphedema is a swelling that develops in one or more parts of the body where the lymphatic system is deficient due to malformation or trauma. A poorly functioning lymphatic system abnormally engulfs skin tissue with protein-rich fluid, causing swelling and inflammation.

Is it a rare disease?

No, lymphedema is a common but under-diagnosed condition. Simply put, any chronic swelling is lymphedema. It’s estimated that over 238,000 Quebecers suffer from lymphedema – that’s 28 out of every 1,000 people. However, as of 2020, only some 6,000 people have been diagnosed and enrolled in RAMQ’s Lymphedema Compression Garment Program.

Most sufferers have lymphedema secondary to another cause. These causes are, in order of importance, venous insufficiency, severe obesity, cancers involving the lymph nodes, prolonged immobilization, surgery and other traumas. In addition, 2% of the population live with congenital or primary lymphedema.

Can lymphedema be cured?

Because the lymphatic system lacks the ability to regenerate, lymphedema is a chronic – lifelong – and degenerative condition, as damage tends to worsen over the years. To date, lymphedema cannot be cured, and if left untreated or inadequately cared for, it can progress.

What are the warning signs of lymphedema?

  • Swelling that comes on suddenly or gradually
  • Feeling of heaviness and/or reduced flexibility
  • Hardening or thickening of the skin, or skin that marks easily when pressure is applied
  • Diffuse, acute or searing pain
  • Edema more pronounced in hot, humid weather or after exercise
  • Infection (cellulitis) of the affected area
  • Clothes, jewelry or shoes feel tighter

Don’t ignore these symptoms. Consult your doctor. Prompt intervention will limit swelling and help prevent complications.

How is lymphedema treated?

To control swelling and stimulate lymphatic circulation, the affected part of the body must be drained and compressed daily. Lymphedema sufferers must wear a specialized, well-fitting compression garment every day, remain active, control their weight, and receive lifelong guidance from a certified lymphedema therapist.

What complications can lymphedema cause?

If not diligently treated, lymphedema can cause:

Bacterial cellulitis, an infection that requires treatment with antibiotics.

Bacterial cellulitis is the most dangerous and life-threatening form of lymphoedema.

Cellulitis manifests itself through one or more of the following signs:

  • Appearance of red spots or an itchy rash
  • Increased swelling
  • Increased skin temperature
  • Sudden onset of fever and chills

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