Primary lymphedema is a condition that results in the build-up of lymph fluid in the tissues. It is caused by abnormalities in the lymphatic system, which is responsible for draining fluid from the tissues. This can lead to swelling in the arms, legs, or other body parts. Primary lymphedema occurs as a genetic malformation of the lymph nodes as opposed to secondary lymphedema, which occurs due to external causes.
Primary lymphedema may be present at birth or occur after birth. If it occurs after birth but before the age of 35, it’s called lymphedema praecox, but if it occurs after the age of 35, it’s called lymphedema tardum. Primary lymphedema can be classified into three categories. The first one is called aplasia, where there is a lack of development of the lymph nodes or vessels. The second one is hypoplasia, where the lymph nodes or vessels are too few or too small, and finally, there is hyperplasia, where the lymph nodes or vessels are too large or too many.
What are the symptoms of primary lymphedema?
The most common symptom of primary lymphedema is swelling in the affected area due to fluid accumulation under the epidermis. Swelling is common in the legs but could also occur in the arms, genitalia, face, or trunk. When the swelling occurs in the legs, it could affect one or both legs and is noticeable on the ankle or foot. Sometimes, it can also affect the calf or thigh. The swelling can be accompanied by pain, heaviness, discomfort, tightness, and unusual tingling in the affected area. The skin may also become abnormally dry and thick or scaly, resulting in a rough texture. You may also notice that the area heals slowly and poorly after any minor trauma, e.g, insect bite or cut. In severe cases, the affected area may have skin ulcers or infections.
How is lymphedema diagnosed?
The diagnosis of primary lymphedema is based on the symptoms and medical history. Your doctor does a physical examination to look for swelling in the affected area. They may also ask about your family history, as primary lymphedema can be genetic. Lymphedema diagnosis can also be made through specialized imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), lymphoscintigraphy, and ultrasound. Your doctor may also recommend tests to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms such as lymphangiectasia or venous insufficiency.
What are the complications of primary lymphedema?
Primary lymphedema can lead to complications such as infections and skin ulcers if left untreated. It is important to see your doctor for regular check-ups and start treatment as soon as possible to reduce your risk of developing these complications.
What are the treatment options??
There is no cure for primary lymphedema, but there are treatment options available to manage the condition and relieve the symptoms. The goal of treatment is to reduce swelling and prevent infection. The most common and effective treatment is compression therapy, but there are also other options like lymphedema pump therapy, lymphatic drainage, surgery, and several others.
Compression therapy is the most common and effective treatment for primary lymphedema. It involves wearing a compression garment or using a compression pump on the affected area to reduce swelling. The level of compression will be determined by the severity of your condition.
Compression garments come in different forms for various body parts that could be affected by lymphedema. They include sleeves, finger gloves, compression shorts, compression wraps, and compression socks. Compression garments reduce swelling by preventing lymph fluid from collecting in the tissues of the affected area. The type of garment will depend on the affected area.
Since compression garments work by applying pressure to the affected area, they need to be fitted properly by a professional Compression Garment Fitter to work effectively. When ill-fitted, a compression garment can apply too much or too little pressure, worsening the condition. If your lymphedema requires ongoing treatment, you can have a daytime and nighttime garment. Having two or more garments also helps you launder them without compromising treatment or comfort. Compression garments last three to six months, depending on how you use them. For best results, frequently rotate out old garments.
The compression pump is a new treatment option that helps with pain relief and fluid discharge in patients with lymphedema. The pump is an inflatable device that increases blood flow and aids in healing wounds that the patient may have. The pump is used by fitting it over the affected area, after which the air pump inflates cushions in the sleeve and forces pressure on the affected area. Once pressure is applied, fluids start circulating in the body for expulsion.
When looking for a compression pump, you need to find a high-quality one. It should have a minimum of three segments that work sequentially to put pressure on the extremity that works from foot to torso or hand to torso. The pressure applied by the compression pump creates a massaging action that forces the built-up fluid to the torso, where it can be removed naturally by the body’s systems. As the treatment progresses and the lymphedema improves, the pressure of the pump can be adjusted accordingly. The compression pump is lightweight, comfortable, and easy to use. It can also be used from the comfort of your home, making it very convenient. It’s a great treatment option if you have both lymphedema and venous insufficiency.
Other treatment options include:
- Manual lymphatic drainage
This is a type of massage that helps to move fluid out of the swollen area. The technique used here applies light pressure to move excess fluid from the swollen area to another body part with functional lymph vessels.
Primary lymphedema increases the risk of cellulitis. Your doctor may therefore prescribe you an antibiotic to prevent or treat an infection. They may also give you painkillers if you are in pain and any other medication that will help alleviate your symptoms, depending on how you are feeling.
Exercising regularly can help to reduce swelling and improve your overall health. It’s important to stay active to help move excess fluid out of the swollen area.
In some cases, surgery may be recommended to remove blockages in the lymphatic system or to remove excess fluid from the tissue. This is usually only recommended if other treatments haven’t worked.
- Skin care
It is important to keep the skin clean and moisturized to prevent infection. You should avoid any trauma to the skin, such as cuts, insect bites, or scrapes.
If you have primary lymphedema, it is important to see your doctor for regular check-ups. They can help monitor your condition and provide you with the necessary treatment. Remember also to wear your compression garments as recommended. Primary lymphedema is a condition that can be managed with proper treatment, so with the right care, you can live a normal and active life.