Lymphedema is a build up of high protein fluid that causes swelling in an area of the body. It occurs when your lymph vessels are unable to adequately drain lymph fluid. It can affect any part of the body, but occurs most commonly in the arms or legs. Lymphedema is common among women treated for breast cancer. Lymphedema mostly develops when lymph vessels are damaged or lymph nodes are removed (secondary lymphedema) though it can also occur when lymphatic vessels are missing or impaired due to a genetic condition
Lymphedema should not be confused with other types of edema such as venous insufficiency or lipoedema. These are different conditions and are generally treated differently. Signs or symptoms of lymphedema include a heavy sensation in the limb(s), tightness of the skin, difficulty in moving the affected body parts. Lymphedema has a number of stages, from mild to severe. It can get worse if it's not treated, so you should speak to a doctor if you think you may have the condition.
In healthy veins, there is continuous flow of blood from the limbs back toward the heart. There are valves within the veins of the legs that prevent the backflow of blood. When your veins have trouble sending blood from your limbs back to the heart, it is called venous insufficiency. It occurs when forward flow through the veins is obstructed.
Several factors can cause venous insufficiency, though most commonly it’s caused by blood clots (deep vein thrombosis) and varicose veins. Symptoms of venous insufficiency include swelling of the legs or ankles (edema), varicose veins, skin discoloration, skin ulcers, aching, burning, cramping and leg weakness. Your doctor will want to perform a physical examination and take a complete medical history to determine if you have this condition,
Treatment will depend on many factors, including the reason for the condition and your health history. The most common treatment for venous insufficiency is compression therapy and prescription-wear compression stockings.
Lipoedema is a condition that makes you accumulate fat below the waist, often giving you hips, buttocks and legs that are out of proportion with your upper body. It can also affect your arms. The feet are not affected.
Lipoedema is a medical condition that is often confused with lymphedema. The individual with this condition may appear to be simply obese and/or to have extremely swollen legs and swollen abdomen. The condition is an uneven distribution of fat cells in the sub-cutaneous regions generally in the legs or abdomen. It occurs almost exclusively in women.
One major frustration of people with lipoedema is that they are accused of being simply "fat," which is absolutely not the case. As well as becoming enlarged, affected areas of the body may: feel soft, 'doughy' and cold, be tender to touch, bruise easily ache or feel painful or have small broken veins under the skin.
People with lipoedema may find it embarrassing to discuss their symptoms with their doctor, but getting diagnosed as early as possible is important in order to prevent the symptoms getting any worse.