Lymphedema is swelling that occurs in various parts of the body. This swelling occurs when there is a problem affecting the lymphatic system. The swelling is due to a build-up of lymph fluid in the body. The affected swollen tissue has an accumulation of fluid which is rich in protein and is usually drained through the body’s lymphatic system.
The swelling that occurs may be mild and cause only mild swelling and discomfort. However, the swelling can also become very significant and become quite painful. It can cause problems with the skin such as wounds and infections.
It can also rarely lead to lymphangiosarcoma, a very rare skin cancer. Very severe cases of lymphedema may cause difficulties in the person’s ability to move the affected limbs. It may also increase the risk of sepsis and lead to skin degeneration.
What causes lymphedema?
Lymphedema is caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system. This can be caused by cancer or cancer treatment. At times, a cancerous tumor may become large enough to block the lymphatic system.
Additionally, surgery to remove cancer can also remove lymph nodes, or potentially some of the vessels which are part of the lymphatic system. As a result, the buildup of fluid may occur in the surrounding tissue. Radiation treatment may also cause damage to the lymph vessels and result in too much lymphatic fluid building up in the tissues.
Lymphatic blockages may also occur as a result of a traumatic event, such as injuries or deep cuts, or bruises. Surgeries such as breast cancer surgery or pelvic surgery may cause lymphedema.
Lymphedema may also occur in persons with heart conditions, such as congestive heart failure. The lymphatic ducts empty lymphatic fluid back into the heart, and if the heart is not working correctly, swelling in the legs may occur.
Additionally, people with kidney disease may develop lymphedema, as the kidneys do not work correctly and have difficulty removing fluid.
What are the symptoms of lymphedema?
Some symptoms of lymphedema include hardening and thickening of the skin, limitations on the range of motion, swelling in any parts of the arms or legs including fingers and toes, a sensation of tightness or heaviness, and infections which are recurring.
People with lymphedema may not be able to see the veins or tendons in the hands or feet. The arms and legs can appear to be different sizes.
How is lymphedema diagnosed?
Healthcare providers can perform a variety of tests to diagnose a person with lymphedema.
- A Doppler ultrasound may be performed to find lymph system obstructions and identify other causes of swelling, such as blood clots.
- An MRI may be used to determine whether something such as a tumor is placing pressure on the lymphatic system.
- A CT scan can also be used to identify something that may be placing pressure on the lymphatic system.
- Another test that may be used is a lymphoscintigraphy. This involves the person being injected with a radioactive dye and placed into a machine, which will reveal the dye moving through the lymphatic system. The dye moving through the lymphatic system will reveal any blockages that may be present.
There are different stages of lymphedema. The stages are classified on a 0 to III scale.
- Stage 0 cases may not have visible swelling but feel heavy, swollen, and tight.
- Stage I cases have occasional swelling which may go away when the affected area is elevated.
- Stage II cases involve the affected area being almost always swollen with skin in the area feeling firmer than skin in other areas. Pressing in the affected area will not leave a dent.
- Stage III cases involve significant swelling in the affected area with changes in the skin including the texture and color. This is referred to as elephantiasis. The skin thickening will have a wart-like appearance.
How is lymphedema treated?
Lymphedema unfortunately has no cure. Treatment is focused on managing the condition and preventing any worsening of symptoms.
At earlier stages, physical activity as recommended by a physical therapist may be used to improve drainage.
Physical therapy may also include a special type of massage called manual lymphatic drainage to stimulate circulation. The use of compression garments is recommended. These can include socks, sleeves, or wraps. Compression garments help move fluid from the tissues into circulation. A physical therapist may also apply multilayer compression bandages. Pneumatic compression devices can also be used to provide pressure to keep the fluid moving throughout the veins and lymph vessels to prevent accumulation in one part of the body. The pump is connected to a sleeve which is inflated and deflated around the affected area.
Additionally, elevation is very important for lymphedema as gravity plays a role, so doctors may recommend keeping the affected area elevated as much as possible.
Can I get Social Security Disability benefits for lymphedema?
If your lymphedema is severe enough to prevent you from engaging in normal work activity, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
These benefits are available for those who have worked and paid taxes on their income for at least five of the past ten years and have a medical condition that keeps them from working that has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or result in death.
To prove eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits, medical records are of critical importance. These include reports from testing which was used to diagnose your case of lymphedema, doctor visit notes which include examination findings with abnormalities, physical therapy records, documentation of a prescribed treatment with a pneumatic compression device, and any other treatment recommendations and findings.
It is helpful for one of your doctors who is familiar with your case of lymphedema to complete a statement on your behalf regarding your limitations. For example, if your doctor advises that you should elevate your legs as much as possible throughout the day, having a statement which clearly confirms this can be of great help in getting your case approved.
If you are suffering from lymphedema and having trouble performing normal work activity, we are here to support you.
Give LaBovick Law Group a call at (561) 625-8400 to get your application started today.