Lymphedema: A Challenge Faced By Our Lymphatic System

What is Lymphedema?

 

Lymphedema word cloud concept

Our lymphatic system is comprised of lymphatic organs and specific cellular groups and molecules that work in conjunction with and correspond directly with our immune system.  Acting as our military defense, standing ready to fight and defend our bodies from the invasion of infection and potential disease.  The lymphatic vessels assist in maintaining an appropriate balance of fluids in the lymph tissues, contributing to maintaining internal homeostasis.  Homeostasis is only achieved when all aspects of the system function effectually, to the ever-changing challenges, within the systems environment.

We do not want to ignore the effort that the cardiovascular system plays, transporting needed matter to the cells, then excreting accrued toxins. This interchange occurring between blood and fluid in our tissues takes places in the capillary beds of our vessels. If the matter is restricted or obstructed from entering or returning through the capillary walls, excess fluid returns, through the blood as lymph.

The Lymph vessels, along with the lymph nodes and organs such as the spleen and thymus, also contribute to clarifying bodily fluids. Which in turn, eliminate toxins that could potentially contaminate additional systems in our body. When this process does not occur efficiently, the body begins to build toxins in the tissue, swelling, inflammation and fat build up in the tissues, known as lymphedema or obstruction. This condition can often lead to changes in the skin, putting the skin at risk for a variety of serious infections such as cellulitis wounds and ulcers.

Lymphedema can be painful, disfiguring, impair movement and potentially deadly without appropriate diagnosis and treatment. (Kahn, Lymph Edema p.13)

 

Possible Causes of Lymphedema

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of lymphedema can include the following:

*  Chronic swelling of an extremity preceded lymphedema.
*  Fatigue directly related to the size and weight of the area.
*  Severe impairment of daily activities.
*  Recurrent bacterial or fungal infections episodes of cellulitis, fissures, ulcerations.
*  Discoloration of skin. Hardening of skin.

 

Who Is At Risk?

Over 200,000 cases in the United States are diagnosed each year. There is no cure for this painful, debilitating disease. Regular communication with your health care provider is not optional, due to the high risk of skin infections that can rapidly turn a chronic condition to a life-threatening disease. However, early diagnosis and treatment are key. There are 2 types of lymphedema. (1) A primary cause, inherited genetics. (2) A secondary can be caused by:

Cancer surgery - Cancer often extends throughout the body by the lymphatic system. Removal of lymph nodes may become necessary to cease the spread. This may stop cancer from spreading, however, puts the lymphatic system at risk for complications.
Radiation - Radiation destroys cancerous, while often damaging healthy tissue. can sometimes damage nearby healthy tissue.
Infections - Cellulitis is very common. A skin infection may damage tissue around the lymph nodes or vessels. This may lead to scarring, increasing the risk of lymphedema.
Inflammatory Skin Conditions – Anything that can tissue to swell or become inflamed. Including everyday skin conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, dermatitis, and eczema.
Cardiovascular System Disease – Anything that affects the flow of blood throughout the body, putting one at an even higher risk.
Injury/ Trauma- A burn or wound the skin that results in scarring of the skin can also put one at risk.

 

We cannot control primary lymphedema. We do have some control over secondary lymphedema and its progression by how its cared for in the early stages of detection.

 

How To Care For Lymphedema

Edema - lymphatic diagnosis on blue folder with stethoscope.

Diet is extremely important in maintaining control over Lymphedema. You can starve lymphedema by eating foods that fight these conditions and can reduce the risk of progression. (Kahn, Lymphedema 2016)
Daily exercise is imperative to the function of the lymphatic, circulatory and immune system.
Compression garments to hinder tissue swelling and inflammation, while supporting unhealthy tissue and exposure to the elements.
Therapeutic massage to the affected tissues. Lymphatic massage assists in draining tissues of fluid and preventing inflammation to the areas at risk. Studies have shown that massage and skin care significantly improved symptoms and well-being of patients suffering from lymphedema. Including some loss of volume in the affected areas. It is imperative to work with practitioner work with someone specifically trained in this technique. Massage isn't for everyone. Avoid massage if you have a skin infection or blood clots.

 

How Can Essential Oil Therapy Support Lymphedema?

Essential oil therapy used in conjunction with therapeutic and lymphatic drainage massage techniques, which often result in client relief. As well as, help in maintaining healthy skin. Helping to improve circulation and reduce inflammation the possibility of infection. Essential oils can even assist in keeping an infection from progressing. Consult a qualified and experienced Aromatherapist for a consultation, when treating conditions such a Lymphedema. They can assist in helping determine a customized synergy of oils that may be right for you. At the dilution appropriate dilution, as well as the type of application that could be most effective. Making you aware of any necessary safety or contraindications, for your specific situation.

 

Essential oils your therapist “may” consider for fluid reduction:
1. Mastic ~ Pistacia lentiscus. (Very powerful must be used within a blend & in low dilution.) Supports the lymphatic system and reduces effects of edema.
2. Juniper Berry ~ Juniperus communis. Supports detoxification within the lymphatic system. Also, helps reduce the effects of edema.
3. Laurel Leaf ~ Laurus nobilis. Also, supports the Lymphatic system and release of excess fluids. Helps to fight bacteria, virus, fungi and mold. May assist in healthy immune function.

 

Essential Oils To Care For The Skin:

1. Roman Chamomile ~ Chamaemelum nobile. Is helps to reduce inflammation and is very soothing to the skin, which could in turn also provide relief from spasms and pain.
2. Helichrysum ~ Helichrysum italicum. Is wonderful for skin healing support as well as encouraging the tissues to regenerate on a cellular level.
3. Manuka ~ Leptospermum scoparium. Also support skin healing, inflammation in the tissues, encourages tissue regeneration. Helps to fight bacteria, fungi, mold and much more.

*Always use massage and essential oil therapy in conjunction with any allopathic medical instruction. NOT as a replacement for professional medical attention or advice.

 

References:

(1) Linda-Anne Kahn, Lymphedema 2016

(2) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1087313-overview

(3)http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/180919.php#Causes%20of%20lymphedema

(4) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lymphedema/basics/preparing-for-your-appointment/con-20025603

(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16563861

(6) http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/tc/lymphedema-topic-overview#1

(7) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1087313-overview