We continue our mission to empower patients during their reconstructive and cosmetic treatment journey by giving you the detail you need to make the informed decision that’s right for you.
This week we focus on Lymphoedema, a debilitating chronic condition ….
What is it?
Lymph-oedema or Lymphoedema, as it is commonly known, is a long-term condition where the lymph nodes get blocked by a build-up of excess fluids in the body. It causes severe swelling, usually in legs and/or arms but can sometimes also affect other parts of the body – head, genitals or chest.
Lymphoedema can make movement quite difficult and painful. It can often lead to disfigurement and disability. Although it is generally not life threatening, if left untreated or poorly treated, it can sometimes result in infections which can prove to be fatal.
Why does it occur?
There are two types of Lymphoedema – primary and secondary Lymphoedema – which have different causes. Primary Lymphoedema is usually caused by genetic mutations. Secondary Lymphoedema is most commonly caused by the removal of lymph nodes or their getting damaged as part of cancer treatment. Chemotherapy or radiation can also block the lymphatic vessels, thus causing Lymphoedema.
What should I look out for?
An early diagnosis is critical for efficient management of Lymphoedema. You should contact your doctor if you notice any of the following:
- Swelling in part or all of your arm(s) or leg(s), including fingers/toes,
- Painful and/or restricted motion in the affected area
- Recurring infections
- Unusual tingling or numbness in the affected area.
What are my options?
As with everything else, for Lymphoedema also, precaution is better that cure. To reduce the risk, it’s important to:
- Maintain healthy body weight
- Keep active and exercise regularly
- Do not ignore any signs of infections
- Be careful to protect and take care if your skin especially while travelling to tropical or subtropical regions.
Lymphoedema is a condition that develops over time and it is relatively easy to spot and manage the early symptoms. Some of the most effective measures are
- Lymphatic massage with hot oils. Olive oil and rosemary oil are particularly beneficial.
- Warm water soak improves circulation, reduces swelling and can help manage pain. You can add lavender, rosemary and sage for enhanced relief
- Ginger tea is excellent in Lymphoedema management as it is both, anti-inflammatory and highly astringent.
- Compression bandages can complement exercise by moving fluid out of the affected limb and minimising further build-up
Although the above can help manage and reduce the symptoms and pain of Lymphoedema, they cannot treat this condition. As award-winning Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon and one of UK’s leading expert on Lymphoedema Mr Damir Kosutic says, “As our understanding of this disease improves, and as advances in microsurgery take place, we are better able to surgically treat Lymphoedema. Depending on the stage and type, it can be treated with either Lymph node transplant or Targeted Liposuction.”
Lymph node transplant: The transplant involves harvest of lymph nodes with their blood supply and their transfer into Lymphoedema affected upper or lower limb. Once transplanted, lymph nodes will act as a sponge to collect excess fluid and will reduce the volume of Lymphoedema-affected extremity permanently-without the need to wear compressive garments any more.
Targeted Liposuction: The accumulation of fat is a significant feature of Lymphoedema swelling. Liposuction is where a thin tube is inserted through small cuts (incisions) in the skin to suck fat out of tissue. It can be used to remove excess fat from an affected limb to help reduce its size.
How much time does the surgery and recovery take?
While Liposuction is performed with an overnight stay only, lymph node transplant requires 4-7 days of hospital stay. Recovery time is up to 6 weeks and results can be permanent, depending on patients compliance.
How much does the surgery cost?
Cost of Targeted Liposuction varies between £5,500-6,500 while Lymph node transplant can vary between £13,000-18,500, depending on complexity.