Well it’s Lymphoedema Awareness Week! 3rd – 9th March 2019
Dr Alison Merrick CDT/MLD therapist
Lymphoedema? You may not have heard of it or know much about it unless it affects you or someone you know. It isn’t life threatening and people still work and play while living with it, and this is one reason why it gets played down so often. But it can have a huge impact on ….’quality of life’, yes, a really massive impact on people’s lives, and I see it every day in my clinics.
Lymphoedema doesn’t only affect people with a cancer history. Other surgery can also damage lymph vessels/nodes, and you can be born with lymphatic deficiencies that cause lymphoedema at birth or later in life.
So maybe you have got through your surgery/chemo/RT, and your oncologist has told you to go away and ‘get on with life’. Most people don’t get a lot of advice on how to deal with the aftermath of all that treatment on their body (let alone the cancer itself)? One of the things that may affect you in the short or long term is lymphoedema.
So, what is lymphoedema? It is a swelling in the tissues. Often arms or legs but can be anywhere in the body. The normal circulation of fluids into the tissues and back into the blood stream is via the lymphatic vessels. If this flow is interrupted by damage to the lymph system then the lymph can’t flow away as it should and it builds up in the tissues.
This swelling can cause ache/pain/fatigue even when it is relatively ‘small’. It can reduce mobility of limbs and joints and make movement and function slow and difficult. Areas of lymphoedema are much more vulnerable to infection and have reduced levels of both blood and lymph circulation. Chronic lymphoedema if not treated, can lead to localised cysts, thickening skin, eczema, fibrosis and ulcers. And everything becomes much more difficult to treat as the immune system cannot work very efficiently in that area.
- By the time you can see the swelling it can be managed but not cured.
- The sooner you begin to manage it, the better it can be controlled.
- The complications that go with untreated chronic lymphoedema can be painful and slow to heal.
Is this all doom and gloom?
Well no but it does show the importance of getting that diagnosis and starting treatment as soon as swelling is noticed. I work with people every day who manage their lymphoedema really well and live full lives.
The message for this awareness week is, if you feel you may be at risk of lymphoedema or if you are not sure, then go online:
- LSN http://lymphoedema.org/
- BLS http://www.thebls.com/index.php
- Or contact me email@example.com/
And find out what you can do to prevent lymphoedema.
If you have lymphoedema then often you will find that:
- Your GP may not know much about it and may prescribe diuretics (which may not be appropriate). See below for information you can pass on to them.
- Local NHS lymphoedema clinics are out there and doing a fantastic job, insist on a referral.
- Get in touch with me to get more information on where to go and what to expect firstname.lastname@example.org/
I really recommend joining the LSN, it costs £15 per year and they have loads of information that is practical and useful:
- An information line you can call and speak to the people who know
- Access to useful leaflets
- Access to self-help videos
- News about treatments and research
- There is also a BMJ learning module that is free to GP’s and counts for their CPD https://learning.bmj.com/learning/module-intro/lymphoedema-.html?moduleId=10029385
The gold standard treatment/maintenance for lymphoedema is CDT (Combined Decongestive Therapy) which comprises Skin Care, Compression, MLD (Manual Lymphatic Drainage) and Exercise. There is more detailed information about this on the LSN website or contact me for more information at email@example.com
Dr Alison Merrick is a private therapist with a background in immunology/oncology research. Alison is and advanced CDT/MLD therapist registered with MLDuk and qualified to treat people with lymphoedema and/or with a cancer diagnosis.
‘’ I treat clients with lymphoedema and help people into NHS support when needed. We are very fortunate locally to have a really good dedicated NHS service and I work with them where appropriate. They accept referrals from me and recommend me to patients. I use MLD, bandaging, Deep Oscillation® and taping in my treatment of clients with lymphoedema. I am registered with the BLS and MLDuk and am member of the LSN’’
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