Understanding Lymphedema: Causes, Impact, and Treatment Options

Neck pain in woman
  • Lymphedema is caused by lymphatic system disruption, resulting in abnormal fluid build-up under the skin.
  • Lymphedema’s effects are multi-faceted, significantly impacting physical mobility, emotional well-being, and social life.
  • Physical effects include swelling, discomfort, skin changes, restricted movements, and increased fatigue.
  • Emotional challenges comprise anxiety about symptom management, compromised body image, and potentially social isolation.
  • Treatment options include lymphatic drainage massages, exercise, compression garments, and, in severe cases, surgery.

Your lymphatic system comprises a network of vessels and lymph nodes that help transport fluids, fats, proteins, and waste products throughout your body. Lymphedema is an abnormal fluid buildup in the tissue under the skin resulting from a blockage or damage to the lymphatic system. Here’s a closer look into lymphedema, how it can affect your life, and how you can treat it.

What is Lymphedema?

First, it’s essential to understand the causes of lymphedema and how it can manifest itself. Lymphedema is caused by a disruption or blockage in the lymphatic system, which can be caused by injury, infection, cancer, radiation therapy for cancer, or even genetics. Common symptoms of lymphedema include swelling in the limb (usually arm or leg), hardening of the skin, and a feeling of heaviness or tightness.

Effects of Lymphedema

The effects of lymphedema can range from mild discomfort to life-altering circumstances. Here’s how it can affect your life.

Muscle pain in man

1. Physical Impact

Lymphedema can have a significant physical impact on your life. The swelling and discomfort that come with lymphedema can make it challenging to move around and perform everyday activities. For example, if you have lymphedema in your arm, you may find it hard to reach up to grab things, carry objects, or even dress yourself. Lymphedema in your legs can make it hard to walk or stand for long periods, leading to decreased mobility and fatigue.

Additionally, lymphedema can cause skin changes such as thickening, hardening, and discoloration. These changes can lead to infections or ulcers if left untreated. Lymphedema can also affect the way your clothes fit, leading to a need for specialized clothing and compression garments.

2. Emotional Impact

Lymphedema can also have an emotional impact on your life. Dealing with a chronic condition can be overwhelming and stressful. You may feel anxious about managing your symptoms, dealing with medical appointments, and worrying about how your condition will progress.

Furthermore, lymphedema can affect body image and self-esteem. The visible swelling and changes in skin texture can make you feel self-conscious and embarrassed. The emotional impact of lymphedema can lead to depression, anxiety, and social isolation if left untreated.

3. Social Impact

Lymphedema can also affect your social life. Lymphedema’s physical and emotional impact can make it difficult to participate in social activities, leading to decreased social connections and isolation. You may feel hesitant to attend events where you must wear clothing that shows your affected area, leading to decreased social relationships.

Treatment Options

There are various treatment options for this disease. Here are four of those options:

Drainage Massage

Specific massages can help treat this particular condition. A therapeutic lymphatic drainage massage is one option that can help reduce swelling caused by lymphedema. It gently stimulates the lymph nodes and vessels to release fluid buildup in affected areas. This can then be drained via the lymph nodes and vessels.

Massage for man legs


Exercise can help to improve lymphedema symptoms by promoting healthy circulation and movement in the affected area. This helps to break up fluid buildup, reduce swelling, and lessen discomfort. Low-impact exercises such as walking and swimming are particularly beneficial.

Compression Garments

Compression garments are specially designed clothing that puts gentle pressure on the affected area. This helps reduce swelling and lymphatic fluid buildup and improves blood circulation in the affected area. Compression garments can also be beneficial for preventing infections that can arise due to lymphedema.


In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat lymphedema. This surgery involves using a laser or radiofrequency device to create tiny incisions in the affected area, draining lymphatic fluid and improving circulation.


Lymphedema is a chronic condition that cannot be cured, but there are steps you can take to help prevent it or manage symptoms. These include:

  • Avoiding tight clothing and jewelry in the affected area
  • Eating a healthy diet high in fiber
  • Exercising regularly to promote circulation and mobility
  • Avoiding any activities that may put a strain on the affected area
  • Avoiding any activities that involve skin trauma
  • Wear protective clothing such as gloves and sunscreen when exposed to chemicals or UV rays.

Lymphedema can have physical and emotional effects on your life, but various treatments can help manage the condition. With proper treatment, you can reduce the impact of lymphedema on your life and help to keep it under control. If you think you may have lymphedema, speak to a physician for further information and treatment options.

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