Swelling of the feet and legs is a fairly regular occurrence. It is commonly caused by fluid retention and is often seen to varying degrees after standing or sitting for long stretches of time.
Fluid retention – a medical condition known as edema – can occur when blood pools in the legs due to a problem with your veins or circulation. It can also occur due to the buildup of lymph fluid, a condition known as lymphedema.
While there are many potential causes for swelling, one of the most common reasons is an inactive lifestyle that leads to poor circulation. It can happen in one or both legs, causing one leg to look bigger than the other.
If you’re experiencing painless swelling in your feet and legs, it’s important to seek treatment right away. But even if you’re not in pain, there are still steps you can take to improve your symptoms and live a healthier life.
What Is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a condition that results in swelling, typically in the arms or legs. This may be caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system or when lymph nodes are removed (as may be done as part of cancer treatment). The symptoms can range from mild to severe, and at its worst lymphedema can cause disfigurement, such as one leg to appear larger than the other, and leave someone susceptible to deadly skin infections. Lymphedema is a chronic condition that tends to recur over time.
What are the causes of lymphedema?
There are many causes of lymphedema. Trauma to the lymph nodes tends to be the most common. This can interfere with the body’s ability to drain lymph fluid properly, causing it to build up and swell. Other causes of lymphedema include:
- Cancer Treatment
What are the symptoms of lymphedema?
The most common symptom of lymphedema is swelling in the affected area. This may cause the skin to feel tight and uncomfortable. This could happen in only one leg making one calf appear larger than the other calf. Other symptoms may include:
- Aching or heaviness in the affected limb
- Restricted range of motion in the affected limb
- Recurring infections in the affected area
- Hardening and thickening of the skin in the affected area
Stages of Lymphedema
Because Lymphedema is a chronic condition, if left untreated it will progress through the following stages :
Phase 1: Latency Stage: During this stage, your body starts to compensate for the decrease in lymph fluid. While there is no outward physical evidence of swelling, the changes are happening within the lymphatic system.
Phase 2: Reversible Lymphedema: This stage is called reversible because it is just that. Swelling is now apparent, but can be effectively reversed with the correct treatment.
Phase 3: Spontaneous Irreversible Lymphedema: The Patients who have reached this phase are characterized by a thickened and hardened skin around the affected area. This is called fibrosis and although surgery can repair the condition of the skin, the damage to the lymph nodes cannot be fixed.
Phase 4: Lymphostatic Elephantiasis: This phase is characterized by extreme scarring and skin thickening. Patients often experience disfiguring swelling as well as noticeable color change on the surface of the skin.
Treatment For Lymphedema
Patients with lymphedema need to take measures to reduce swelling and periodic monitoring by a doctor in order to prevent the condition from worsening. If the underlying cause of a patient’s symptoms is addressed, it may help to reduce the risk of recurrence. Treatment focused on rerouting lymph fluid through nearby functioning lymphatic vessels may offer long-term relief for some patients.
In most cases, lymphedema can be treated without surgery. Your treatment options may include compression garments, massages, movement exercises, and low-level laser therapy. If these methods don’t work, your doctor at VIP may recommend a minimally invasive procedure like Radiofrequency Ablation or Ambulatory Phlebectomy.
If you or someone you know is suffering from lymphedema, don’t wait to seek treatment. There are many conservative approaches that can help reduce swelling and the risk of recurrence. Surgery may be necessary in severe cases, but it is typically a last resort. If you have any questions about your treatment options, please talk to your doctor at VIP. We want to help you get back to living a normal life as quickly as possible.