Lymphedema

Jane Smith, MD -  - Phlebologist

VeinCare of Central North Carolina

Jane Smith, MD

Phlebologist & Internist located in Raleigh, NC

Lymphedema is the build-up of lymphatic fluid in your legs and arms that can be painful and even serious if left untreated. Jane Smith, MD and her team at VeinCare of Central North Carolina treat lymphedema and help to make patients aware of the severity of their condition, the various treatment options, and the best course of action. In Raleigh, North Carolina, Dr. Smith and her team are experienced with treatments aimed at reducing the pain and swelling from lymphedema. Call the office today or book your appointment online.

Lymphedema Q & A

What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema is the excessive collection of lymph fluid in the tissues underneath your skin.

Lymph originates in the fluid between your tissues (interstitial fluid) and is circulated throughout the body through a series of tubes called the lymphatics. Lymph begins as a clear fluid rich in proteins but as it passes through lymph nodes it accumulates white blood cells. These white cells are key in preventing infection.

Much like veins, backflow of the lymph fluid is prevented by one-way valves. If there’s a problem in your lymphatic system, a buildup of fluid occurs, causing swelling, otherwise known as “edema.” It most often occurs in the arms or legs.

If you have lymphedema, you may also experience other symptoms including:

  • Aching or discomfort
  • Recurring infections
  • Restricted mobility of your extremities
  • Fibrosis, or a thickening and hardening of the skin around the affected area

The severity of lymphedema varies depending on the person. The primary symptom to watch for is the swelling and resulting increase in the size of your arms or legs.

What causes lymphedema?

Some cancer treatments like radiation therapy can cause lymphedema. In fact, it frequently occurs shortly after the radiation treatment is complete. However, it may also take many months after cancer treatment to develop.

Lymphedema can also occur from a blockage in your lymphatic system, an integral part of your immune system. The blockage stops the lymph fluid from draining as it should, so it collects, the tissue swells causing lymphedema.  

Lymphedema can also be caused by trauma, an infection, or by a genetic disorder such as congenital lymphedema or Milroy's disease. Lymphedema is also a rare side effect of liposuction.

What are the risk factors for lymphedema?

The risk factors for lymphedema are:

  • Aging
  • Obesity
  • Genetics
  • Skin disorders
  • Varicose vein disease
  • Excessive sun exposure

Sometimes lymphedema can cause a skin infection called “cellulitis,” though it can also be caused by an infection of the lymph vessels called “lymphangitis.”

What are the treatment options for lymphedema?

The affected area should be elevated to allow fluids to move out of the limb. Dr. Smith and her team recommend:

  • Exercise
  • Weight Loss
  • Medical-grade compression hose
  • Layered compression wraps
  • Gradient sequential compression pumps
  • Manual lymphatic drainage

Compression sleeves are also useful for women who have undergone a mastectomy for breast cancer.

The above management options help reduce the swelling and allow fluid to flow out of the affected area. Assuming there’s no damage to the soft tissue, lymphedema can be markedly improved. If lymphedema is caused by vein disease and has only been present for a short time, it can be reversible.

Dr. Smith and her team will guide you through your treatment options and work with you to make a collaborative and informed decision about what’s right for you. Call the office or book your appointment online to discuss lymphedema.