More than 200,000 people in the UK are affected by Lymphoedema, with many of these sufferers developing the condition after various cancers. However, not many people have ever heard of it.
Lymphoedema is a chronic condition that causes excessive swelling in the body’s tissues and can affect any part of the body, but usually develops in the arms or legs.
The lymphatic system is a network of microscopic channels and glands throughout the body that fight infection and remove excess fluid; Lymphoedema develops when this system isn’t working properly.
So, how do you look out for it?
The first warning signs are transient swelling, typically getting worse during the day and resolving overnight. The affected limb will also feel heavy, painful and the swelling episodes will become more severe and persistent as the condition progresses.
Lymphoedema is not only uncommon, it’s also debilitating and has a huge impact on the life of individuals. Aside from the pain, the lack of mobility causes problems in everyday life.
The condition affects both the upper and lower limbs, with different challenges to the daily living activities. Imagine not being able to use your arm to chop food and for those whose leg is affected, having limited mobility.
Unfortunately, its effects go far beyond those that we can see.
The psychological impacts of Lymphoedema can be devastating. For some patients, they are dealing with cancer diagnosis, going through intensive treatment and left with scars. They now have to live with the constant reminder of their ordeal, as their limb is perceived by them as abnormal.
Sufferers often loathe the limbs, and how they look as they can’t wear clothes they usually wear. This often results in them losing their sense of ‘self’.
The most common option for sufferers is to use methods to control the symptoms, however, they won’t cure Lymphoedema. Although they take time and effort, these methods can be used to bring the condition under control.
This is known as Decongestive Lymphatic Therapy (DLT) and is an intensive phase of compression bandages, skin care, exercise and massage techniques.
Nevertheless, patients rightly seek out a cure to this debilitating condition and there have been recent surgical advances to offer surgical procedures for Lymphoedema.
Whilst there is currently no cure, these offer potential benefits to patients. High volume liposuction and lymph node transfers have been the surgical options available; however there have been developments in super micro surgery and this is now a new procedure is offered in Wales.
The Lymphoedema Network Wales is working with Spire Cardiff Hospital to increase the patient choice in their treatment for Lymphoedema.
The most recent development is Lymphatic Venous Anastomosis (LVA) and Plastic Reconstructive Surgeon, and Amar Ghattaura and the team can now offer this privately at Spire Cardiff Hospital.
Mr Ghattaura explained: “The best way to describe the procedure is that I am re-establishing the body’s plumbing system so that it can drain away excessive fluid efficiently.
“We are diverting a blocked flow to where there is a good flow, bypassing the blockage and allowing the drainage system to function properly.”
What to do if you think you have Lymphoedema?
First and foremost it’s important to contact your GP or nurse specialists and discuss your concerns.
If you would like to discuss your condition with the team at Spire Cardiff Hospital or require more information on the service, call 02920 542509.