The lymphatic system is a network of channels and glands (lymph nodes) throughout the body that help fight infection and remove excess fluid.
Damage to the lymphatic system can be caused by cancer, treatment to lymph nodes (eg lymph node removal or radiotherapy), deep vein thromboses (blood clots) or skin infections. This damage can then lead to swelling in the body's tissues (lymphoedema).
Lymphoedema can affect any part of the body, but usually develops in the arms or legs.
Early identification and treatment of lymphoedema can prevent it from getting worse.
There's no cure for lymphoedema, but it's usually possible to control the main symptoms using techniques to reduce fluid build-up and stimulate the flow of fluid through the lymphatic system. These techniques are listed below:
- Keep skin clean – wash daily with a mild, non-perfumed soap or soap substitute
- Keep skin supple and well-moisturised with a daily application of a bland, non-perfumed moisturising cream
- Protect from sunburn with high factor cream
- Use insect repellent in areas of risk and consider antihistamine creams or tablets if there is a reaction to the bite.
- Avoid walking barefoot or wearing shoes that cause blisters
- Check between toes or skin folds regularly and treat any fungal infection
- Clean any cuts or scratches with antiseptic
- If there are signs of cellulitis (a bacterial infection of the skin) medical help should be sought quickly for treatment with antibiotics. Symptoms of cellulitis include redness/warmth/pain in the affected skin +/- a fever.
Simple activities like walking, stretching and heel-raises will help the lymphatic system.
Compression garments (socks/stockings and sleeves), bandaging or Velcro wraps to compress the affected areas. This helps drain fluid and reduce swelling.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)
The use of massage techniques to move fluid through the lymphatic system. This may be done by a specialist practitioner or a simplified version may be taught to patients or carers.
LymphConnect is an online community to support people with lymphoedema
Please also see this 3 minute video 'About Lymphoedema' by ComptonCare & the British Lymphology Society