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What is lymphedema?

Lymph nodes arepart of the immune system and can become blocked for different reasons. In sucha blockage, lymphedema, also known as elephant disease, develops. Lymphedema isan increase in intercellular fluid due to disruption of the lymphatic system.The intercellular fluid that needs to be drained through the vessels cannot bedrained properly due to the impaired lymphatic system. The fluid that cannot bedrained and excreted begins to accumulate in the tissues. Lymphedema occursbecause the transport process cannot be carried out by the lymphatic system.

What are the Causes of Lymphedema Formation?

When lymphedema develops, lymph fluid cannot enter the bloodstream. This fluid, which cannot enter the bloodstream, naturally spreads under the skin. One of the most common causes of lymphedema development is the removal of lymph nodes due to different causes. Cancer treatment is indicated at the beginning of the situations that will require the removal of lymph nodes. For instance, people who have had breast surgery for cancer or a different reason have a 25% chance of developing lymphedema. Some of the diseases that prepare the appropriate environment for the development of lymphedema are cancers that develop in the prostate or lower abdomen.

The greater theamount of lymph nodes removed for treatment, the higher the probability ofdeveloping lymphedema in those patients. Other major conditions that can causelymphedema are:

I.      Damage to lymph nodes duringsurgical intervention,

II.    Trauma or injuries such as cuts andscrapes,

III.   Radiation therapy for cancertreatment,

IV.  Fungal diseases,

V.    Infections,

VI.  Bacteria or parasites transmitted bymosquito bites or insect bites,

VII. Congenital genetic problems in thelymphatic system.

If theunderlying cause of the development of lymphedema is known, it is easier toplan the treatment process of the disease.

How Many Types of Lymphedema Are There?

Lymphedema isdivided into two groups as primary and secondary. Primary lymphedema andsecondary lymphedema are defined as:


Primarylymphedema usually occurs in the womb. If lymph vessels develop less than theyshould during this process, this is called primary lymphedema. Primarylymphedema is commonly seen in one leg. However, if the disease progresses, itcan rarely be seen in the other leg. There are also non-congenital conditionsfor the disease to be called primary lymphedema. For instance, lymphedema that develops afterthe age of 35 and lymphedema resulting from Milroy's or Meige's disease arealso called primary lymphedema.


Secondarylymphedema develops depending on the treatment methods applied during cancertreatment. Radiotherapy treatment is also one of the conditions that can causesecondary lymphedema. Conditions that are not congenital and develop later arecalled secondary lymphedema.

What Are the Symptoms of Lymphedema?

Lymphedema first manifests itself with swelling in the arms or in different parts of the body. In the later stages of the disease, these swellings are likely to spread to the legs. In the early stages of the disease, the symptoms may follow a temporary course. In other words, swelling in the arms or legs may disappear the next day. However, the progression of the disease makes these swellings permanent.

Common lymphedema symptoms can be listed as follows:

   Swelling in the arms, legs or other parts of the body, including the fingers,

   Conditions such as thickening, hardening or stretching of the skin,

   Restriction of movement in cases of swelling in the joint area,

   Pain and discomfort,

   Frequent recurring infections

   The infiltration of the lymph fluidaccumulated under the skin on the skin,

   Warts and similar formations,

   Folding in swelling areas.

How to Diagnose Lymphedema Disease?

It is essentialto first listen to the patient's history for the diagnosis of lymphedema. Here,the first questions that doctors will ask the patient are about past traumasand infections. As a matter of fact, whether the patient had a breast surgeryin the past is one of the key points for the diagnosis of lymphedema. Eventhough physical examinationalone is sufficient for the diagnosis of lymphedema, other diagnostic methodsthat doctors can refer to are as follows.

   Measurementbetween two arms and two legs to calculate the level of swelling,

   Alsocalled bioimpedance; The method of applying electricity to the body using metaldevices and calculating the amount of fluid by looking at current changes,



   Alsocalled lymphoscintigraphy; The method of injecting a radioactive dye into thebody and thus detecting both the amount of fluid in the body and the areas ofobstruction,



Usually, one ofthese methods is sufficient to make a diagnosis. But if there is any doubt bythe doctor, several different diagnostic methods can be used.

What are the Methods Applied in the Treatment of Lymphedema?

After thediagnosis of lymphedema is made, the treatment method to be applied is decideddepending on the type and level of the disease. The treatment methods that canbe applied are:

Skin care

Moisturizing creams are used in skin care applied to prevent drying of the skin. Creams with a pH value of 5.5 are used during treatment.

Manual LymphDrainage Method

The aim of themanual lymph drainage method, which is applied using special massagetechniques, is to relieve swelling. The basic logic of this treatment method isto transfer the lymph fluid in the edematous region towards the regions wherethe lymph nodes work.


It is aimed toprovide muscle activity at the same time with exercises to ensure that fluiddrainage occurs as it should. Bandages and compression stockings are generallyused when performing exercise programs.

Bandaging andCompression Stockings

In bandaging andcompression stocking applications carried out to protect the lymphatic systemefficiency, the applied pressure can be adjusted in a balanced way since theyare personalized applications. Thanks to these treatment methods, there-accumulation of lymph fluid in the edematous area is prevented. Bandagingtreatment is the primary treatment and is supplemented with compressionstockings after this treatment is completed. After taking measurements from thepatients, compression stockings are produced individually.

It is of great importance that all methods to be applied in the treatment of lymphedema are applied correctly by specialists and experienced physicians. Improperly applied techniques can lead to disease progression. Thus, we recommend to work with a specialist physician who creates personalized treatment programs to increase the success of the treatment process!

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