What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema is defined as an accumulation of protein-rich fluid in the soft tissues caused by insufficiency, blockage, or removal of lymphatic vessels or nodes. It is characterized by swelling in one or more of the following extremities:
Over time, this leads to chronic inflammation and fibrosis in the affected region. Individuals with lymphedema are also at increased risk for infection and wounds in involved areas, if not treated properly.
Types of Lymphedema
There are two types of lymphedema:
- Primary lymphedema may be present at birth or in adolescence and can involve any part of the body, often for unknown reasons.
- Secondary lymphedema is caused by damage or injury to the lymphatic system, most often through cancer treatments involving lymph node removal or radiation. Secondary lymphedema can also be caused by infection or by untreated venous edema, which is most common in the lower extremities.