What is lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema is a medical condition that causes the accumulation of excess protein-rich fluid in body tissues, leading to swelling in different parts of the body. Typically, lymphoedema affects the arms and legs, but it can also occur in the breast, trunk, head, neck, or genital area. This condition arises as a result of damage or dysfunction of the lymphatic system when the demand for lymphatic drainage exceeds its capacity to circulate fluid.
The established classifications of lymphoedema are:
Primary: due to a genetic malformation of the lymphatics. Onset of swelling may not present until adolescence or adulthood
Secondary: damage or destruction of lymph nodes or lymphatic vessels. This may occur with surgery and/or radiotherapy related to cancer treatment, recurrent cellulitis, or following injury (trauma or surgery to other organs or structures in the body)
Left untreated, lymphoedema will lead to progressive swelling over time. However, lymphoedema can be reduced and managed with appropriate intervention. The stage, location, and severity of the lymphoedema, together with individual circumstances of the client, will influence the most appropriate intervention.
What are the risk factors for developing lymphoedema?
The risk of developing lymphoedema can depend on many factors. Any damage to the lymphatic system causes a lifelong risk of developing lymphoedema.
Key risk factors for Secondary Lymphoedema include:
- History of cancer surgery – extent and location of the surgery including number of lymph nodes removed
- History of radiation treatment – location of treatment and damage to underlying lymphatic system
- History of wounds, trauma and/or tissue damage
- History of infection (e.g. cellulitis and fungal infections)
- Increased body mass index (BMI)
- Venous disorders
The National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre (NBOCC) review of research evidence on secondary lymphoedema states, “conservative estimates suggest that 20% of breast, genitourinary, gynaecological, or melanoma survivors will experience secondary lymphoedema”.
What are the available treatments for lymphoedema?
Our qualified lymphoedema therapists, led by Roxanne van Rensburg, provide a holistic approach to management using Complex Lymphoedema Therapy (CLT), which is a conservative treatment method. The CLT offered by our clinic includes several components which may include:
- Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)Prescription compression therapy
- Sequential Intermittent Pneumatic Compression (SIPC) therapy
Treatment for Cording