Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Certain surgeries may lead to limbs swelling

Stephanie Turner, Aiken Standard

For some people, they will never be fully healed. An illness has crept inside them, swelling their limbs to abnormal sizes.

This swelling can be a sign of lymphedema, according to Holly Shurtleff, Hitchcock Healthcare occupational therapist.  "You can eat perfectly healthy and be the ideal weight, and, yet, you can still get lymphedema," she said.

March is deemed Lymphedema Awareness Month.

"This illness can be really scary," Shurtleff said.
Lymphedema stems from your body's lymphatic system, which helps protect our bodies from germs and bacteria, as well as help us release waste, Shurtleff said.

"It is part of the circulatory system of veins and arteries," says the National Lymphedema Network.

Shurleff explained that the "controlling center" of the lymphatic system are called the lymph nodes, which are located in the lymph vessels.

When lymph fluid passes through these nodes, they rid the fluid of harmful bacteria and viruses.

"Networks of the lymphatic system comprising these vessels ... and nodes are situated in several areas of the body," the National Lymphedema Network stated.

These networks reach places like the neck, the armpits, the pelvic area and the groin.

Surgery that results in the lymph nodes being removed are one way a person can get lymphedema. These surgeries are often used as treatment methods for cancer patients, Shurtleff said.

"Surgical removal of a tumor and adjacent lymph nodes and vessels may block lymph fluid from flowing naturally through its system," the National Lymphedema Network says.

Having radiation therapy can also leave its effects by causing scar tissue to form. This will also disturb the flow of lymph fluid.

Some are born with lymphedema, Shurtleff said.  "The whole baby's body can swell," she said.

If the swelling goes untreated, your skin can harden and/or you can get infections, the National Lymphedema Network stated.

Treatment methods include exercising, using compression garments and bandages and taking antibiotics. Methods are determined based on the cause and severity of the illness, the National Lymphedema Network stated.

Your affected limb can return to its normal size but only if it swelled up to less than 5 percent of its normal size, Shurtleff said.

"The further it is, the greater the possibility it won't get back to your normal size," she said.

One treatment method she uses is massaging. That and exercise can "get the fluid moving throughout the whole area," she said.  Lymphedema cannot be cured, she added.

The swelling can reoccur; therefore, those with this ailment must take precautions.

Besides keeping your weight to a healthy level, avoid wearing tight jewelry and doing stressful movements with the affected limb. Avoid injuries by wearing protection as you work around the house or at your job. Keep the limb away from heat, and keep it elevated as much as possible.

Those with affected limbs should not to get blood drawn or shots put into them.

Those who need to have their lymph nodes removed can work to prevent themselves from catching lymphedema, Shurtleff said.

After surgery, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, protect the limb and exercise.

If you are experiencing unusual swelling and discomfort, tell an oncologist or your regular physician.

For more information on lymphedema, visit www.lymphnet.org.

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