It is a chronic condition that causes random swelling in the body’s tissues and it can affect any part of the body. Lymphoedema principally involves the legs (80%), although the arms, genitalia and face can also be affected. It’s not life-threatening, but it can affect anyone, at any age and can become a major physical and social detriment to sufferers. Around 500 million people worldwide are thought to be affected and about 2% of the total population in the United Kingdom.
In most cases the onset of lymphoedema is insidious; however it can also be quite sudden. Many patients say that they had very mild or no swelling initially, but that some trauma, such as a minor infection, insect bite or twisted ankle, triggered a rapid progression of lymphoedema.
Wolverhampton’s Compton Hospice made a great animation called ‘What is Lymphoedema? to help raise awareness. It can be seen on this page.
There are other symptoms associated with lymphoedema and these can include an aching, heavy feeling in affected body parts and some sufferers report difficulty moving them.
The condition is caused by a problem with the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and glands distributed throughout the body. Its major functions are helping to fight infection and drain excess fluid from tissues.
There is no cure for lymphoedema, but it is usually possible to control the main symptoms using techniques to minimise fluid build-up and stimulate the flow of fluid through the lymphatic system.
Left untreated, the condition can get worse so it is essential to have a consultation with a specialist. The Whiteley Clinic has two Lymphoedema Therapists, Sarah Moh and Susanna Priest.