Lymphedema is caused by an abnormality of the lymphatic system leading to excessive build-up of tissue fluid that forms lymph, known as interstitial fluid. Stagnant lymph fluid contains protein and cell debris that causes swelling of affected tissues. Left untreated, lymphedema leads to chronic inflammation, infection and hardening of the skin that, in turn, results in further lymph vessel damage and distortion of the shape of affected body parts.
Interstitial fluid can build up in any area of the body that has inadequate lymph drainage and cause lymphedema. Lymphedema is a condition that develops slowly and once present is usually progressive.
Lymphedema is divided into two broad classes according to etiology:
The impact of arm/extremity lymphedema has been well studied and documented
Conservative measures for the treatment of lymphedema include, but are not limited to elevation of the affected limb, exercise, massage, and use of a compression bandage system or compression garment.