Thank you for joining us in our conversation about lymphedema symptoms, causes and it’s relation to vein issues. The internet has exhausting amounts of information about health but it can be hard to navigate and discover the medical help you need to achieve greater health. That’s why we’ve asked Chattanooga’s very own vein specialist, Dr. Vincent Gardner, to continue our Q & A series on everything from varicose veins to pigment changes and now lymphedema.

Question: What is lymphedema?

Answer from Dr. Gardner: Essentially it’s swelling.  The medical definition for lymphedema is when lymph or tissue fluid accumulates in soft tissue rather than being flushed through the lymph system normally. This buildup causes edema, also known simply as swelling.

Question: What are the symptoms of lymphedema?

Answer from Dr. Gardner: Symptoms of lymphedema may include, but are not limited to:

•   edema (swelling) of any amount of the leg, feet, arm or hands

•   edema of the head or neck

•   warmth or redness

•   fever and chills

•   heavy, tight, aching or tingling feeling in arms or legs

•   range of motion restriction or loss of flexibility in arms or legs which is often painful

•   secondary bacterial or fungal skin infections

•   thickening or hardening of the skin

•   severe fatigue

Question: What is lymph fluid?

Answer from Dr. Gardner: Lymph fluid is clear to white-colored fluid composed of white blood cells,  that are ready to fight infection and defend the body against germs. The lymphatic system is, therefore, a part of the immune system as the first line of defense against disease. It also contains chyle, fluid from the intestines rich in proteins and fats. 

Question: What causes lymphedema?

Answer from Dr. Gardner: There are several main causes of lymphedema. It is most often caused by damaging or removal of lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment. However, it can occur any time a lymph node is blocked which keeps the fluid from draining properly and therefore it accumulates causing swelling. Most people don’t realize it but chronic untreated vein disease accounts for greater than 1/3 of the cases of lymphedema.  When this happens it is called phlebolymphedema. This form of lymphedema is considered secondary. Primary lymphedema is caused genetically and is very rare.

Question: What parts of the body are impacted by lymphedema?

Answer from Dr. Gardner: Typically, lymphedema occurs in the arms, hands, legs, and feet but may also occur in other parts of the body.

Question: What does vein health have to do with lymphedema?

Answer from Dr. Gardner: Venous insufficiency, varicose veins, Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), and other types of vein disease can all lead to poor venous circulation and therefore also leave a patient at higher risk for lymphedema.

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Want to learn more? Listen to this patient describe how Dr. Gardner treated her lymphedema.

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