Lymphoedema can often go undiagnosed
March is Lymphoedema Awareness month and Sasha Roche Kelly, oncology nurse and Manual Lymph Drainage Therapist, has first -hand experience dealing with Lymphoedema and is well aware of the causes, symptoms and effects associated with the condition.
Sasha explained that Lymphoedema is swelling caused by an impaired lymphatic system and mainly presents in the arms or legs, however it can occur in other areas of the body. The swelling is caused by an inability of the lymph system to transport protein properly around the body. Protein lies in the tissues where it attracts water. There are two types, Primary or Secondary Lymphoedema. Primary is due to a congenital or genetic abnormality of the system. Approximately one in 6,000 will develop Primary Lymphoedema. Many are unaware of the symptoms and thus go undiagnosed.
Secondary Lymphoedema occurs due to the lymphatic system being damaged. This can occur following surgery or trauma, removal of lymph nodes, radiotherapy, scarring, large wounds or advanced cancer which can block the lymphatic system. Other causes can include problems with veins, infections such as cellulitis, inflammation due to conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, immobility associated with paralysis or neurological conditions as well as obesity which can increase the risk of lymphoedema.
Upwards of 1200 people are at risk of developing secondary Lymphoedema following treatment for cancer each year in Ireland and it is estimated 15,000 people are living with Primary and Secondary Lymphoedema. Early detection is vital as Lymphoedema is a long-term condition which has no cure.
Early signs include, swelling in parts of the body. At first it may come and go and it will often be worse at the end of the day. Clothes or jewellery may feel tighter than usual. You may have a feeling of heaviness, tightness, soreness or stiffness in the affected area. Skin changes can occur over time; the skin may feel tight, taut and look shiny.
Lymphoedema can be controlled well with early treatment which focuses on reducing the volume of the swelling, improving function and reducing the risk of infection which all contributes to improving people's quality of life. The more familiar you are with the condition, the better you can manage it.