When lymphoedema leads to the accumulation of surplus fat tissue, liposuction can effectively address the long-lasting consequences of this condition. Continue reading to understand more about lymphoedema and determine if liposuction is the suitable treatment option for you.
What is lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema is a chronic condition characterised by the swelling of body parts, typically affecting the arms or legs, due to the accumulation of lymphatic fluid. This swelling occurs when the lymphatic system, which is responsible for filtering and draining excess fluid from tissues, doesn’t function properly.
What Causes Lymphoedema?
The causes of lymphoedema are determined by whether the condition is primary or secondary:
- Primary lymphoedema: This type is less common and is typically caused by genetic or developmental abnormalities in the lymphatic system. It may be present at birth (congenital lymphoedema) or develop later in life with no clear cause (late-onset lymphoedema). Primary lymphoedema can result from conditions such as Milroy’s disease, Meige’s disease, or lymphedema praecox, where the lymphatic system doesn’t develop properly or is underdeveloped.
- Secondary lymphoedema: This type is more common and occurs as a consequence of damage to the lymphatic system or blockage of the lymphatic vessels. Common causes of secondary lymphoedema include:
- Cancer treatments: Lymphoedema can develop following surgery or radiation therapy for cancer, particularly in breast cancer patients, where lymph nodes are removed or damaged. The removal or damage to lymph nodes disrupts the normal flow of lymphatic fluid, leading to accumulation and swelling.
- Infections: Parasitic infections, such as filariasis (common in tropical regions), can cause damage to the lymphatic system. Bacterial or fungal infections in the affected limb can also lead to secondary lymphoedema.
- Trauma or injury: Accidents or injuries that damage the lymphatic vessels can lead to lymphoedema. This can include burns, wounds, or even excessive tissue removal during surgery.
- Inflammatory conditions: Certain inflammatory diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis or severe eczema, can cause damage to the lymphatic system and result in lymphoedema.
- Venous insufficiency: Chronic venous insufficiency, where veins struggle to transport blood back to the heart, can cause increased pressure and fluid accumulation in the tissues, leading to lymphoedema.
- Obesity: Excess weight can put added pressure on the lymphatic system, making it difficult for lymphatic fluid to drain properly and leading to lymphedema.
What are the symptoms and signs of lymphoedema?
The symptoms and signs of lymphoedema can vary depending on the severity and stage of the condition but may include the following:
- Swelling: The most common and noticeable symptom of lymphoedema is swelling in the affected limb(s). This swelling can extend to the fingers or toes and may occur gradually or suddenly. In the early stages, the swelling may be mild and temporary, but over time, it can become more persistent and pronounced.
- Heaviness and discomfort: Individuals with lymphoedema often experience a feeling of heaviness, tightness, or discomfort in the affected area. This sensation can be accompanied by aching or pain, particularly after physical activity or prolonged periods of standing or sitting.
- Restricted range of motion: As the swelling increases, it can restrict the range of motion in the affected limb, making it difficult to move the joints and perform daily activities.
- Skin changes: Over time, lymphoedema can lead to changes in the skin, such as hardening or thickening (fibrosis), which may cause the skin to feel tight or less elastic. Additionally, the skin may appear discolored or develop a rough, bumpy texture.
- Recurring infections: Lymphoedema can increase the risk of infections in the affected area, such as cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection. Individuals with lymphoedema may experience recurrent infections, which can further exacerbate the condition and lead to additional complications.
- Pitting: In some cases, the swelling may become so severe that pressing the skin with a finger leaves an indentation or “pit” that takes time to rebound. This is known as pitting oedema and can be a sign of advanced lymphoedema.
- Psychological symptoms: The physical symptoms of lymphoedema can also lead to emotional and psychological distress, including anxiety, depression, or feelings of self-consciousness related to body image.