Lymphedema is an abnormal collection of high-protein fluid just beneath the skin. The word edema originates from the late Middle English period from a Greek word meaning “to swell”. It occurs most commonly in the arm or leg, although it may occur in other parts of the body as well.
Chronic retention of fluid in an area sets off a cascade of further complications. The first is inflammation, which contributes to the development of fibrosis (scar tissue) in the affected area. The presence of fibrosis makes it even more difficult for the body to eliminate the excess fluid. Increased fluid and fibrosis then cause the delivery of oxygen and essential nutrients to the area to be slowed, which in turn impedes wound healing, providing an ideal environment for bacterial growth and increased risk of infection.
There are two classifications of lymphatic obstruction:
– Primary – abnormalities in the lymphatic system associated with congenital or genetic irregularities.
– Secondary – a result of damage to the lymphatic system (the system that transports white blood cells throughout the body, ridding the body of toxins and waste, and providing immune function). Common causes are surgery, trauma, radiation, chemotherapy, parasitic infection and lymph node removal.
A feeling of heaviness or fullness, swelling and aching pain in the affected area are the classic symptoms associated with lymphedema. Advanced lymphedema may also present with a number of skin changes such as discoloration, thickening, hyperplasia (cell proliferation resulting in enlargement of tissue or organ) and wart-like lesions and eventually deformity (elephantiasis).
So how would you help a woman with advanced lower extremity lymphedema (primary) when she cannot receive foot reflexology? Danielle Gilmore, a 2014 Academy grad was determined to help. See where staying open to possibility took her.
National Lymphedema Network