Are you one of over a million people in the United States who suffer from lymphedema? Or do you know someone who does?
If so, you may know that lymphedema is a debilitating condition that shows up as swelling in the limbs and, when left untreated, can lead to great discomfort and potentially life-threatening consequences.
You probably want to know how it happens and what can now be done to make your situation more manageable.
The cue for this article is the recent passing of the Lymphedema Treatment Act, but we’ll backtrack first to give it some context.
So – we’ll take a closer look at:
- What Lymphedema is and how it occurs
- The link between venous insufficiency and lymphedema in the legs
- Diagnosis, prevention, and treatment
- Improvement in care that’s now possible, due to the Lymphedema Treatment Act
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a chronic condition in which the lymphatic system does not adequately drain fluid from your body’s tissues.
This causes a fluid build-up, leading to swelling of affected areas. You mostly see it in arms and legs, but it can also occur in other parts of your body.
Symptoms of lymphedema in the legs include
- tightness in the skin,
- feeling of fullness,
- thick, dry, and itchy skin,
- repeated infections, and
- a decreased range of motion.
How does lymphedema occur?
Something in your body stops your lymphatic system draining properly. The cause is often damage to the lymph nodes or lymphatic vessels, which in turn blocks the flow of lymph fluid and results in swelling.
There are two types: primary and secondary.
Primary Lymphedema is congenital and results from malformed lymph nodes and/or lymph vessels. The symptoms usually appear reasonably soon after birth but can also occur later in life.
Secondary Lymphedema develops due to external factors that damage the lymph nodes and/or lymph vessels. These might include:
- Surgery involving the removal of lymph nodes
- Cancer treatment
- Chronic venous disease
- Trauma and injuries
- Skin inflammation
What Causes Lymphedema in Your Legs?
Lymphedema in your legs can be due to chronic venous insufficiency.
When your veins can’t adequately transport your blood back to your heart, there’s an increase of pressure, and extra fluid leaks into the surrounding tissue.
Initially, your lymphatic system handles the increased fluid load and effectively removes the excess from your body.
However, you know how any form of overload affects you! Your lymphatic system is no different. It becomes overworked and less efficient when this extra fluid stays around for an extended period.
The result is a build-up of protein-rich edema in the affected area, which becomes painful and swollen. That’s something you want to prevent.
Can it be prevented?
While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent it, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of lymphedema. These include
- maintaining a healthy weight,
- avoiding infections,
- avoiding tight clothing, and
- having regular check-ups with a specialist (especially if you’re at high risk, such as from the factors we mentioned above that can cause secondary lymphedema)
How is Lymphedema in Your Legs Diagnosed?
It’s relatively easy to misdiagnose this condition or overlook it early on. That’s why you need to be aware of the symptoms. They can be varied and hard to spot.
But, as we mentioned, lymphedema is a serious, progressive condition. You don’t want to invite long-term health issues by leaving it untreated. So – keep an eye out for any changes that may occur in your legs and ask a specialist vein center for a diagnosis.
What Happens to Untreated Lymphedema?
If left unmanaged, lymphedema can have serious consequences. Obviously, we want you to ask us for advice, not be scared! But these are some of the possible future problems:
- Slower wound healing
- Increased risk of infections – cells that prevent infections are hindered from reaching the affected area(s)
- Skin infections – trapped fluid provides the ideal environment for germs, and the smallest injury can lead to cellulitis, a common bacterial skin infection causing redness, swelling, and pain
- Sepsis – untreated cellulitis can spread into the bloodstream and trigger sepsis
- Leakage of the lymph fluid through the skin
- Thickening and hardening of the skin in severe cases
- Stiff or sore joints
- Psychological effects, such as distress, depression, embarrassment, anger
- A rare form of soft tissue cancer
Managing and Treating Lymphedema
Although there’s no cure, you can manage it and stop it progressing.
Treatment for lymphedema in your legs aims to
- reduce swelling,
- encourage lymph fluid flow,
- improve mobility, and
- prevent the onset of infection.
You can do this through a combination of these approaches:
- Compression stockings or bandages
- Regular exercise (stretching, light resistance training)
- Lymph drainage massage
- Keeping your affected leg(s) elevated
- Losing any excess weight (you might be interested in Super B Slim Boost if you’ve tried lifestyle changes without success)
- Surgery (liposuction, lymphovenous bypass, lymphovenous transplant, skin grafts)
Better Access to Care, Thanks to the Lymphedema Treatment Act
To access medical-grade compression garments and other treatments for lymphedema, patients need a diagnosis and a prescription from a healthcare provider that includes specific measurements taken at the ankle, knee, and thigh.
However, although compression supplies are essential in the daily care of lymphedema, they can be an expensive burden without insurance coverage.
And to date, insurance has not been available. You can get compression socks of the right medical grade but must pay.
The Lymphedema Treatment Act is altering this unacceptable situation!
The Act was passed in December 2022 and will take effect on 1 January 2024. The aim is to improve the quality of life of people suffering from lymphedema by requiring Medicare to cover prescribed treatment and supplies.
Thanks to this act, if you have lymphedema, you’ll have better access to medically necessary compression garments, reduced healthcare expenses, and – as a result – a better quality of life!
Which is probably why you clicked through to read this post…
Lighter and Healthier Legs with Denver Vein
Early diagnosis and treatment are key to managing lymphedema and preventing it from progressing.
Our team at Denver Vein is passionate about providing the best possible care for you if you have lymphedema. We have great partners we work with, including physical therapists and lymphedema pump therapists. We can provide you with the referrals you need to get started.
And although insurance options are still limited until the Act comes into effect, you’ll receive excellent support and guidance to help you step outside with confidence.
So – why wait? If you’re wondering about any leg swelling at all, let’s talk.