Lymphedema is a troubling condition that can impact one’s life dramatically. Characterized by fluid accumulation in fatty tissue under the skin, lymphedema typically occurs within the arms and legs, though it can also occur in other parts of the body, such as the face, neck, and even abdomen.
While some forms of lymphedema are genetic, it can also be caused by certain types of cancers and their associated treatments, as well as other conditions that affect the lymphatic system. For those concerned about developing lymphedema, it’s important to be aware of the following risk factors to reduce your chances of developing the disease.
Numerous Surgeries Performed on the Chest
Undergoing multiple chest surgeries is shown to have links to the development of lymphedema. This has to do with disruptions to your body’s lymphatic system, which can occur as a result of surgeries of the chest and surrounding areas. More extensive surgeries, such as mastectomies, run the highest risk, though other types of breast cancer treatment are also thought to play a role.
As for breast reconstruction surgeries, links to lymphedema are so far inconclusive. However, many doctors recommend that women undergoing such surgeries are monitored by specialists in the condition to ensure proper care is available if required. This is especially true if tissue becomes inflamed directly after surgery, which would then require bandaging or compression.
Radiation or Chemotherapy
Radiation treatment can pose a significant risk, particularly when the treatment area is large in size and situated on the chest and/or underarms. The underarm area contains clusters of lymph nodes, which can be impacted by radiation therapy intended on treating cancer.
While chemotherapy is not directly associated with developing lymphedema, this treatment can serve to cause weight gain, which is a risk factor in and of itself. Extra fat means a higher rate of fluid retention and increased difficulty getting vital nutrients and oxygen to tissue. This can overload the lymphatic system, thereby resulting in lymphedema.
Lymph Node Surgery
Lymph node surgeries are also cited in some occurrences of lymphedema. In general, the more lymph nodes removed during surgery the greater the risk. This means that some types of lymph node surgery (such as axillary lymph node dissection) incur a higher risk due to the number of lymph nodes removed.
These types of surgeries are also associated with increased chance of infection, which is yet another risk factor in developing lymphedema. Affected surgical sites can result in a seroma, which is defined as a buildup of clear fluid under the skin. Studies show that the occurrence of seromas often indicates an heightened risk of lymphedema.
Help Is Available
There are methods for preventing lymphedema if you are among the high risk population. For instance, staying adequately hydrated can mitigate risks, while undertaking good personal skin hygiene can also be helpful.
In the event that lymphedema does occur, treatment should be sought as soon as possible. Because lymphedema is a chronic condition, it’s important for those afflicted to receive both physical as well as emotion treatment. A common treatment for lymphedema is compression garments. It is possible to live a rich and fulfilling life with lymphedema, provided the proper steps are taken.