More than 140 million people suffer from lymphedema, but despite the data, this disease is hardly known. According to experts, there is no cure, but with early diagnosis and proper treatment, the patient can normalize his life. Today, March 6, World Lymphedema Day
Lymphedema is a disease that affects between 140 and 250 million people around the world, but of which there is “poor knowledge”, points out Paloma Domingo, physiotherapist, founder and vice president of the Spanish Lymphedema Association (AEL).
It is a disease that increases the volume of any part of the body through which the lymphatic system passes and can trigger a serious infection.
The lymphatic system is responsible for the appearance or not of this disease, a network of organs, blood vessels, ducts and lymph nodes, responsible for cleaning cell debris.
If this system fails or is damaged, the connection between network components is broken, collapsing and ceasing to function effectively. This is when lymphedema appears.
Although there is no cure, an early diagnosis and adequate treatment can reverse the pathology in many cases, giving the patient the opportunity to normalize his life.
On this World Lymphedema Day, Paloma Domingo asks for greater cooperation and knowledge of the disease among health professionals since, she says, there are still experts who deny the existence of this pathology, even though there are studies that corroborate it.
Hormonal changes and accidents
Lymphedema tends to occur, mostly and as detailed by Domingo, in cancer patients who have undergone surgery or who have received radiotherapy.
“When doing the surgery, most of the time, they have to remove the nodes, which are part of the lymphatic system. And, once they are removed, our roads are in the system, but tolls do not exist, “she details.
However, other people can also suffer it for hormonal reasons or even hereditary.
Lymphedema can be congenital or hereditary and can develop at any time and stage of life, according to the expert.
Paloma Domingo, also director of the Vodder Center for Physiotherapy, specifies that women are the most likely to have this disease.
“Above all it usually happens many times in girls, because they occur more in adolescence, with hormonal changes”.
In this case, she details, the incidence number is very low. Domingo argues that nothing can be done to prevent it because “it does not make sense to perform diagnostic tests on the entire population given the small number of primary lymphedema.”
Beyond cancer patients, they can also occur in the event of an accident, for example, a traffic accident and an injury to the vessels themselves.
Unlike primary lymphedema, the secondary type can be prevented in patients who have undergone surgery or are treated with radiation therapy.
In the words of the founder of AEL, when dealing with damage caused by the removal of a series of lymph nodes or by radiation treatment, professionals can prevent the appearance of the pathology with early treatment.
Stadiums, the older the worse
Stage 0, in which there is a lesion of the lymphatic system, but it is not visible. There is no difference in measurement between one healthy side and the other. “This is where we insist that you have to work, because we know that the injury exists,” insists Domingo.
Stage 1, occurs when there is an increase in volume, but lymphedema appears and disappears with movement of the area.
Stage 2, in which lymphedema on its own does not go away.
Stage 3, in which there are changes in the skin, there are vesicles and some “significant changes” of the skin.
In any of the stages, says the expert, you can work and, according to a study by Domingo, you can go from a higher stage to a lower one.
Not being within the Body Mass Index (BMI), not having a good muscle tone or having retractions of the scars are some factors that can promote the appearance of secondary lymphedema after a treatment or operation.
However, the expert details that, until a few years ago, there was a belief that cancer patients should not exercise after one of these procedures.
“The professionals told their patients not to take on weight or even not to wear accessories such as bracelets or rings because they thought that this would favor the onset of the disease.”
Currently, says Paloma Domingo, it has been shown that exercise is beneficial and, therefore, she recommends staying in shape, as well as attending a professional before an intervention or radiotherapy, with the aim of prevention.