Lymphedema is fluid that builds up in the arms or legs. It is often caused by surgery to remove lymph nodes during cancer treatment, especially breast cancer surgery, which can cause fluid to build up in the arm. It can happen after radiation treatment to an area that involves lymph nodes. It also can be caused by a fractured bone or surgery to fix a fracture. And some medicines also can cause lymphedema. Some people get it for unknown reasons.
Normally, lymph nodes trap bacteria and other substances as fluid flows through them. Then, the white cells in the body's defence, or immune, system can destroy the substances. But if there are few or no lymph nodes—or if the lymph system in an arm or leg has been damaged—fluid can build up in the affected arm or leg.
You can take simple steps at home to help treat or prevent fluid buildup. Treatment may include raising the arm or leg to let gravity drain the fluid. You also can wear compression stockings or sleeves.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:
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Current as of: March 28, 2018
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
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