If you're a fan of the hit TLC reality show My Feet Are Killing Me, you've probably seen the episode featuring Tiffany and her extreme case of lymphedema. While this show feeds off of the shock value associated with the severe cases they feature, the conditions you see on the TV screen are actually extremely common in real life. In one episode, a patient named Tiffany reported struggling with lymphedema since she was a teen, and even wore specialty shoes to accomodate for her extremely swollen feet. While your case may not be as serious, we think you should have the lowdown on lymphedema's causes, treatment, and prevention.
What Causes Lymphedema?
Lymphedema starts with the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that make up our body's immune system. One of their functions is to drain lymphatic fluid. When the lymph nodes stop draining fluid like they should and instead retain fluid, lymphedema is usually the diagnosis.
One very common cause of lymphedema is cancer treatment. Cancer treatments often damage the lymph nodes and in some cases these important structures even need to be removed in order to get the patient to remission. If you've had a masectomy, you may also be at a higher risk for developing lymphedema.
A lot of people interchange lymphedema with the term lipedema, but they are two very different conditions. What's the difference? Well, while lymphedema deals with fluid retention, lipedema is caused by diregulation of the fat metabolism processes in the body. In addition, lymphedema occurs in the arms and legs while lipedema can occur anywhere on the body, primarily the lower body. The symptoms can present in similar ways, so it's important to visit a specialist to make sure you have a clear diagnosis. That way you can form an effective treatment plan.
What Are the Symptoms of Lymphedema?
Some common symptoms include:
- Swelling of the legs, feet, and toes (or arms and fingers)
- Heaviness or tightness
- Restricted range of motion
- Recurring infections or cellulitis
- Hardening or thickening of the skin
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or notice anything else that causes you concern, it may be time to seek treatment. If the symptoms affect your lower legs, feet, and toes, a foot and ankle specialist is a great place to start. Your family doctor or a lymphologist can also diagnose and treat the condition.
How is Lymphedema Treated?
In My Feet Are Killing Me, Tiffany's doctor treated her lymphedema with Silver Alginate wraps and a compression pump called a Flexitouch. When a patient presents with lymphedema in our office, we will perform a full evaluation to make sure there isn't any infection or other serious issues. We'll also discuss your lifestyle. How is your diet? Often, added and refined sugars, refined grains, and chemically modified fats can be a trigger for lymphedema. What is your activity level these days? It might surprise you to learn that exercise can also trigger the condition! Studies have shown that those with lymphedema can maintain a consistent workout schedule, but heavy-impact exercise can also trigger lymphedema. Many runners report struggling with lymphedema.
We might recommend some low-impact exercises to keep you active while also keeping the swelling and fluid retention at bay. Education about the use of compression garments, socks, and stockings can also give you more tools in your treatment arsenal. Compression is a highly effective treatment for lymphedema, and even professional athletes like Serena Williams utilize compression garments to keep their symptoms at bay.
Learn More: Why You Should Be Wearing Compression Socks
A more well-known treatment for lymphedema is the use of a compression pump (as seen on TLC!). Also known as pneumatic compression pumps or lymphadema pumps, these mechanical devices work by gently squeezing the areas with retained fluid and moving that fluid away from the limbs and towards the center of the body. They look like big sleeves and are designed to slip over the arms or, more commonly, the legs. You should only use one if it has been recommended by a specialist and getting one is easy! Come in for a consultation and we can write you a prescription for a lymphadema pump that will be covered under most insurance plans including Medicare.
If you're ready to get help for your lymphedema, making an appointment is the first step. We make it easy! Just fill out our contact form and one of our friendly staff members will contact you to set up an appointment, verify your insurance, and answer all of your questions. Managing your lymphedema is possible when you have an effective team of caring specialists in your corner.