Living With Lymphoedema

Although lymphoedema is a physical condition, it affects people’s lives in many other ways. Here are some of the ways it can affect your life…

Physical Effects

People with lymphoedema can experience pain or discomfort, and decreased limb movement and mobility problems.

Lymphoedema can also affect regular activities of daily living, e.g., dressing. Often people need to buy oversized clothing and footwear to accommodate their swollen limb or body part.

People with lymphoedema can be more prone to falls. And they can also suffer from chronic skin conditions such as cellulitis.

Psychological Effects

Because of the disfiguring nature of lymphoedema, people can have body image issues. This often results in negative body image, anxiety or depression, or social isolation. Self-confidence and self-esteem are lowered, and intimate relationships can suffer.

It goes without saying that the greater the severity of lymphoedema, the higher its’ impact is on the person.

Childhood lymphoedema can cause children to feel excluded from their peer group. It can even affect their relationships with their unaffected siblings.

Management and Treatments

Lymphoedema requires lifelong self-care to manage it effectively. Here’s a list of treatments that are currently available to you.

Skin Care – Because your skin changes with lymphoedema, you’ll need to take good care of it. Keep it clean, moisturised and avoid damaging your skin

Exercise – Moderate exercise is helpful, but you need to grade it to your ability. Swimming and hydrotherapy are great because the water applied pressure to the area like a compression garment.

Weight Management – Excessive weight can place your lymphatic system under stress. When your weight is maintained at a healthy level, your lymphatic system has a better chance to function optimally.

Positioning – Gravity can have a negative effect on the lymphatic system. So, avoid spending long periods in any one position. When you sleep, try to lie as flat as you can to promote lymphatic drainage. Deep breathing and gentle muscle contractions also help the lymphatic system and fluid to move.

Psychological Support – Because lymphoedema is a chronic condition with no cure, it can be overwhelming. This can affect mental health and the ability to work. It can also affect personal relationships.

Always seek support if your symptoms of lymphoedema are impacting your mental health.

Social Support – Many people find groups such as LAQ to be helpful in their self-management. Joining a group of like-minded people help people with lymphoedema to know they aren’t alone. They can also share tips to make each other’s life easier.

Complex Lymphatic Therapy (CLT) – This treatment generally lasts around two to four weeks. It’s a combination of skincare, specific massage, compression bandaging, and exercises followed by ongoing compression garments.

Compression Therapy/Garments – Are an essential part of managing lymphoedema. They may be used to prevent an increase in swelling or following CLT. Compression garments aim to maintain the size of the limb in combination with exercise and massage.

Laser Therapy – This form of therapy stimulates the cells and softens the tissues. Some evidence suggests that it may stimulate lymph vessels and help them to work better.

Pneumatic Compression Devices (Pump) – This is a mechanical supplement to self-massage. Pumps can be purchased for in-home use or accessed through lymphoedema services.

Surgery – Surgical options for managing lymphoedema are emerging in Australia. These options include liposuction, lymph node transfers and lymphovenous anastomosis (joining a lymph vessel to a vein). Currently, these options are only available through limited centres.

Drugs – There are no recommended medications available for the treatment of lymphoedema in Australia.

Emerging Technology – There are a variety of other technologies that are being trialled around the world. As these come to light, we always let our members know.

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