What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema is an abnormal collection of lymphatic fluid in the tissues just beneath the skin. This swelling commonly occurs in the arm or leg, but it may also occur in other body areas including the breast, chest, head and neck, and genitals. Lymphedema develops when a body region, where lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes are missing or impaired, becomes overloaded with lymphatic fluid.
Lymphatic fluid is normally transported in our body by an extensive network of vessels and nodes. When these vessels are damaged or malformed, there is a risk that lymphatic fluid will not be adequately transported and may result in fluid backing up in body tissues. When fluid congests in the tissue, swelling occurs. This swelling is called lymphedema.
If the condition is left untreated, it leads to progressive tissue swelling over time. Lymphatic fluid congestion also reduces healthy blood flow to the tissue, interferes with wound healing, and enables bacteria to grow, which increases the risk for tissue infections.
Lymphedema should not be confused with other types of edema resulting from venous insufficiency, cardiac conditions, kidney failure, or other inflammatory processes. These swelling conditions are systemic, while lymphedema occurs only in the specific regions of the body.