Risk Factors For Lymphoedema

Lymphoedema is not always a preventable condition. It is however life-long, if you develop it. Knowing what may predispose you to the condition and knowing the early symptoms can empower you to seek early intervention if you need it. Here are the factors that can put you at risk:

  • Cancer-related surgery:

    Surgical procedures to remove cancer often disrupt normal lymphatic pathways and can thus increase the risk of developing lymphoedema. Surgical removal of lymph nodes can pose a risk because the lymph vessels need to drain into a lymphatic vessel. Generally, the more lymph nodes that are removed, the higher the risk of developing lymphoedema. Sentinel lymph node dissection has reduced the risk, but there is still a possibility of developing lymphoedema

  • Radiation Therapy:

    Radiation therapy can damage the lymph vessels and lymph nodes and thus carries the risk of developing lymphoedema

  • Immobility:

    Movement and exercise are our body’s natural way of emptying the lymphatic system. If you do not move for a long time, the lymph vessels are not emptied and oedema can develop. Over a longer period of time, this oedema develops into chronic oedema or lymphoedema.

  • Injury (extensive soft tissue injury):

    The initial lymphatic vessels are located in the skin, and if an area of skin is damaged, the surrounding lymphatic vessels will compensate. If there is sufficient damage and considerable persistent inflammation, the lymph vessels become overloaded and lymphoedema develops.

  • Obesity:

    Obesity puts a strain on many of our bodily systems, and is no different in our lymphatics. Whilst the lymphatic network does have a certain degree of expandability, if there are too many cells for the lymphatics to drain, the lymphatic system will fail to be effective

  • Venous disease:

    If the valves in the veins do not work efficiently, there is a backflow of fluid into the tissues. This leads to swelling in the limbs and, over a longer period of time, to secondary damage to the lymphatic vessels

  • Infections (cellulitis):

    Infections, such as cellulitis, damage the lymphatic vessels and lead to scarring of the vessels. When a lymph vessel is scarred, it can no longer effectively remove fluid and proteins, resulting in a lymphoedema

  • Family history of lymphoedema:

    Some forms of lymphoedema are known as primary lymphoedema. This means that they are caused by a malformation of the lymphatic system during foetal development. Primary lymphoedema can occur at birth or develop later in life. While there is not always a genetic link to the development of lymphoedema, it seems to be more common in families with a history of lymphoedema

You can read more about the early symptoms of lymphoedema

If you are concerned about your risk factors or are displaying early signs of lymphoedema, it is advised to book an assessment with a qualified lymphoedema therapist.

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