Dispelling Myths about Lymphedema

Lymphedema is characterized by extreme swelling in one or more body parts, usually the limbs. Caused due to excessive and abnormal accumulation of fluids, proteins, or cellular waste in the tissues right below the skin, lymphedema occurs as a result of a malfunctioning lymphatic system.

Issues in the lymphatic system that lead to lymphedema are caused due to :

  • Failure of the lymph vessels to develop properly
  • An injury, trauma, or infection that damaged the lymph vessels
  • Removal of lymph nodes, usually due to cancer treatment

There are numerous myths surrounding lymphedema disorder. In this blog today, we are bursting some of the most common myths and trying to spread awareness about this medical condition, stay with us till the end.

Myth 1: Nothing can be done to treat lymphedema

It is true, lymphedema is a lifelong medical condition and there is no permanent cure for it. Also because it is a chronic progressive disorder, even mild cases of lymphedema can escalate to severe medical conditions.

Although lymphedema is incurable, the good news is that owing to the numerous advancements in medical science and technology, lymphedema can be treated and managed easily.

The treatment aims at reducing the swelling, decreasing the pain, and improving the patient’s ability to move the affected limbs. This, in turn, leads to an overall improvement in the patient’s lifestyle as they are able to perform their daily activities on their own.

Myth 2: Lymphedema leads to massive swelling in the limbs

Much like cancer, lymphedema also has stages. Thus the intensity of the lymphedema symptoms such as pain and swelling varies with the stage. Stage I has mild symptoms where there is negligible swelling that is not much noticeable. In Stage II, the patient has a moderate intensity of symptoms whereas, in Stage 3, the symptoms get severe to the extent that the patient may find it difficult to even move or lift the swollen arms or legs. The earlier that you report your symptoms to your doctor, the higher will be the likelihood of quicker recovery.

Myth 3: If your limbs start to swell, you can wait before you visit a doctor

If you notice any swelling after your lymph nodes are removed or even after undergoing treatment for lymphedema, do not wait before consulting your doctor. The sooner you visit the medical practitioner, the easier it will be for them to control the symptoms and prevent further damage.

Myth 4: Removal of one or two lymph nodes does not lead to lymphedema

As per recent studies, it is indeed true that people who get five or more lymph nodes removed are at a greater risk of developing lymphedema as compared to the others. But some patients who have had fewer lymph nodes removed have also been reported to have developed lymphedema.

Lymphedema affects every patient differently. Radiation therapies for the treatment of cancer can trigger lymphedema irrespective of the number of lymph nodes that were removed. Hence, you must always be cautious about the symptoms.

Myth 5: Lymphedema can only develop within the first five years of surgery and/or cancer treatment involving radiation therapy

There is no denying the fact that the probability of developing lymphedema is the highest right after undergoing radiation treatment for cancer or other surgical procedures. But lymphedema can develop at any stage, even after months or years of having undergone the cancer treatment.

Also, the risk of lymphedema increases with age and there are no medical examinations to determine who will develop it and when. Lymphedema can also be triggered by small injuries such as a pinprick. It is suggested for people at a high risk of lymphedema to always be cautious and prevent any injury or infection.

There have been a few cases where cancer survivors have developed lymphedema after 25 to 30 years of radiation treatment. In the case of genetic or hereditary lymphedema, symptoms may be visible at birth or develop during the teenage.

Myth 6: A person suffering from lymphedema must neither lift heavy weights nor exercise nor remain active

Contrary to this myth, inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are the biggest risk factors for lymphedema. Obese people can reduce the likelihood of developing lymphedema by maintaining an exercising routine. This will not only help maintain a healthy weight but also get the muscles pumping which in-turn improves the flow of the lymph fluid and thus reduces the swelling.

It has been proved that lymphedema patients can get relief from symptoms by gradually lifting smaller size weights while wearing a compression garment for added support. Mild to moderate physical activities are also suggested if you ensure to not overexert the affected limbs.

Consult your medical practitioner for a recommended exercise plan to help ease your symptoms of lymphedema. Always keep a close eye on your symptoms, if the pain and swelling get worse after exercising or lifting weights, consult your medical practitioner without any delay.

Myth 7: Change in heat or pressure can trigger lymphedema

The research to confirm the effect of extreme heat or change in pressure on lymphedema patients is inconclusive. However, it is advised for all lymphedema patients or those at high risk of lymphedema to avoid extreme heat in sauna baths, hot tubs, or heat waves. Also, it is recommended for them to wear compression garments during an extended duration of a car or air travel.

Lymphedema is a critical medical condition and can make it very difficult for the patient to lead a normal life. Genuine medical care at the right time is vital to ease the symptoms and control the situation from turning worse.



Disclaimer: For educational purposes only. This not a substitute for professional care. Do not use this information for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your physician. All medical products require a physician’s prescription.