To Your Health: Lymphedema
Buddhists call housework "invisible work" because you only notice it when it's not done. The lymphatic system is often considered an invisible system--- an extensive drainage network that helps keep bodily fluid levels in balance and defends the body against infections. But when it’s work doesn’t get done, you definitely notice.
Lymphedema is the swelling of a body part due to the accumulation of protein-rich fluid in the tissues. It is the result of lymph not being able to flow through the body as it should.
There are two types of lymphedema. Primary lymphedema is caused by a malformation of the lymphatic system. Secondary lymphedema is often caused by injury, scarring, or surgical removal of lymph nodes or radiation therapy of lymph nodes. For example, the Susan G. Komen foundation reports that ten to twenty percent of women who have surgery for breast cancer involving the lymph nodes may develop lymphedema.
There is not a definitive way to diagnose lymphedema and doctors will need to check for other causes of swelling, such as blood clots, before referring patients to a certified lymphedema therapist.
While there is no cure for lymphedema, it can be managed and controlled. The gold standard treatment includes five components: patient education, compression therapy, meticulous skin and nail care, therapeutic exercise, and manual lymph drainage---which is a type of specialized massage.