Learning about the illness for the first time? Here’s what you should know.
What is lymphedema?
It's a lymph node disorder that causes swelling in the arms or legs, according to the Mayo Clinic. It occurs when there is blockage in the lymphatic system. The blockage prevents lymph fluid from draining properly, which leads to fluid buildup and eventually swelling.
What are the causes?
Lymphedema is most commonly caused by the removal or damage to lymph nodes as a result of cancer treatment, according to the Lymphatic Education & Research Network. It will occur in up to 50% of breast cancer survivors, and 100% of those with head and neck cancer.
It can also be hereditary, or it can be caused by Milroy's disease, which occurs when lymph nodes form abnormally, or Meige's disese, which occurs when lymphatic fluids build up.
What are the symptoms?
Common signs include swelling of part or all of your arm or leg. Patients also experience restricted range of motion, feeling of heaviness or tightness, aching, discomfort, and hardening and thickening of the skin, according to the Mayo Clinic.
How is it diagnosed?
Doctors conduct imaging tests, such as an MRI scan, CT scan, doppler ultrasound or lymphoscintigraphy, according to the Mayo Clinic. Each of these tests can highlight blockages in the lymphatic system.
How is it treated?
While there is no cure for lymphedema, most treatments focus on reducing swelling and pain. Lightly exercising, as well as bandaging, the affected area can encourage fluid drainage, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Doctors may also encourage patients to wear compression garments or devices, which help move fluid away from swollen limbs.
Who is affected?
Up to 10 million Americans have been diagnosed with lymphedema, according to the Lymphatic Education & Research Network. More Americans have lymphedema and lymphatics diseases than AIDS, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.
In addition to Wendy Williams, actress Kathy Bates suffers from it.