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Lymphedema as a Lymphatic System Disease

Diseases of the lymphatic system are common among adults and children. There are many types of these pathologies that require different treatment approaches. The most common problem is lymphedema, which develops when the formation of lymph and its outflow through the capillaries and lymphatic vessels from the organs and tissues of the extremities is disrupted.

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The lymphatic system is part of the body’s fluid transport system; it keeps fluids flowing in the body and cleans its tissues of waste and decomposition products. If there is lymphedema, protein-rich intracellular fluid accumulates, and one can observe a permanent progressive swelling of the limb and its increase in size, thickening of the subcutaneous tissue, hyperkeratosis, cracks, and ulcers.

Two types of lymphedema are distinguished: primary, caused by an abnormality of the lymph vessels at birth, and secondary, caused by an intervention in the lymphatic system. The causes of secondary lymphedema are diverse. It occurs more frequently among overweight people and may be caused by cardiac insufficiency, chronic venous insufficiency in its decompensated forms, damage (mechanical and surgical trauma, burns) (Kayiran et al., 2017). It can also be caused by tumors or inflammatory infiltrates, preventing lymphatic drainage, streptococcal lymphangitis, or parasitic infection.

Doctors identify several stages of lymphedema for a better diagnosis process. In what is known as stage zero, the lymphatic vessels are damaged, but there is no visible swelling yet. In the second stage, the swelling develops during the day but partially or entirely disappears when the limb is in an elevated position. When a finger is pressed on the skin, a dimple forms. When the patient is in the third stage, the swelling persists even with prolonged rest, and the skin thickens.

The final, third stage is characterized by severe swelling and changes to the skin. For instance, it may be perforations from which lymphatic fluid leaks out. Another name for this stage of lymphedema is elephantiasis (Kayiran et al., 2017). It is advisable to consult a doctor at the earliest possible stage (ideally at the first stage). The doctor will recommend suitable treatment and ensure that the swelling does not increase but begins to decrease or at least stabilize.

Lymphedema is a chronic condition that cannot be cured entirely. Nevertheless, proper and, above all, continuous treatment produces excellent results. Comprehensive physical anti-edema therapy has proven to be particularly successful. The initial focus is on skincare and hygiene, thoroughly clean and care for the affected areas. Then the therapist performs manual lymph drainage and then immediately applies a compression bandage. Without a bandage, the swelling will return in about two hours.

It is essential to be physically active during getting rid of the swelling, preferably immediately after manual lymph drainage and with a bandage. Once the swelling removal phase is complete, the second phase begins the maintenance phase. The four components are the same as for swelling: hygiene, lymph drainage, compression, and physical activity. Therefore, with proper treatment and timely diagnosis, the symptoms of lymphedema can be successfully managed.

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The lymphatic system A system of thin vessels that branches out, like the blood veins, into the tissues all over the body. It is part of the immune system.
Lymphatic vessels Thin-walled valved structures that carry lymph.
Lymph nodes The little round or bean-shaped bumps that you usually cannot feel unless they become swollen. Lymph nodes are like filters that remove dangerous germs.
The spleen The spleen is located in the upper left part of the belly under the ribcage. It helps protect the body by clearing worn-out red blood cells and other foreign bodies (such as germs) from the bloodstream.
The lymph A colorless, watery fluid that lymphatic vessels carry.
The tissues A group of cells that have a similar structure and that function together as a unit.
Lymphocytes The special cells that fight infection. Lymph nodes contain lymphocytes.
Pathologies Disruption of normal organism functioning.
Capillaries Tiny blood vessels.
Intracellular fluid The fluid inside the cell.
Hyperkeratosis Thickening of the skin
Cardiac insufficiency A disease that occurs when the heart cannot pump strongly enough to make sufficient blood reach the entire body.
Venous insufficiency A disease that occurs when veins have trouble sending blood from the limbs back to the heart.
Decompensated forms The inability of an organ to maintain its function due to overload caused by a disease.
Tumors An abnormal mass of tissue that forms when cells grow and divide more than they should.
Inflammatory infiltrates A disease that occurs when inflammatory cells infiltrate around the blood vessels.
Lymphatic drainage A gentle, rhythmical massage treatment that helps in the stimulation of the lymph fluid circulation throughout the body.
Streptococcal lymphangitis The infection causes the lymph vessels to become inflamed.
Parasitic infection Parasites are organisms that live off other organisms or hosts to survive. Some parasites invade organ systems that make their hosts sick, resulting in parasitic infection.
Compression bandage A long strip of stretchable cloth that you can wrap around a sprain or strain.

References

Kayiran, O., De la Cruz, C., Tane, K., & Soran A. (2017). Lymphedema: From diagnosis to treatment. Turkish Journal of Surgery, 33(2), 51-57. Web.

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