Get the facts about lymphedema

You’ve recently learned that you have lymphedema, but how well do you know the facts? This chronic condition affects around 100 million people worldwide. While resources on lymphedema are growing, there’s still a lot left to learn, making it important to dispel myths while bringing much needed information to light about this disease.

Get the facts about lymphedema - the most common myths on the condition

Whether you’re newly diagnosed or have been living with lymphedema for a while, stay in the know and empower yourself with these lymphedema facts.

Lymphedema is simply “water weight”.

Some people incorrectly believe that lymphedema can be relieved by simply taking a diuretic (water pill). But lymphedema is caused by an obstruction in the lymphatic system which leads to the excessive buildup of protein-rich fluid called lymph in the tissue.

This condition can not be treated with water pills, since diuretics mainly reduce the amount of fluid in the blood vessels. That said, true water weight responds to water pills, while lymphedema usually does not.

Diet and exercise will prevent lymphedema.

Diet and exercise do actually help in the treatment of lymphedema: Movement and mobility are extremely beneficial, as is nutrition. The latter can reduce weight as well as inflammatory processes.

But they have little to do with why a person develops swelling in the limbs associated with lymphedema. However, lymphedema by way of morbid obesity can occur, as excess body fat can “crush” the lymphatics.

Lymphedema is a form of cancer.

Lymphedema is not cancer. However, cancer tumors affecting the lymph nodes or lymphatic vessels can cause symptoms leading to lymphedema.

In addition, cancer treatments involving chemotherapy and radiation, as well as surgery and infections can damage the lymph nodes and cause secondary lymphedema.

Lymphedema can be “cured”.

Lymphedema currently has no cure. However, many people are managing the condition just fine thanks to day-to-day management of symptoms, lifestyle changes, physical therapy, prescribed compression and routine checkups with their doctor.

Lymphedema compression stockings are “unattractive”.

Today’s compression wear is compatible with all lifestyles. From active wear to evening wear with a variety of colors and styles, fashionable compression garments can help those living with lymphedema manage symptoms while looking and feeling their best.

Lymphedema is not genetic.

Though rare, primary lymphedema can be inherited as seen in conditions like congenital lymphedema (also called Milroy’s disease) and Meige’s disease (lymphedema onset by pregnancy or puberty).

However, secondary lymphedema – the most commonly known version – is typically triggered by factors outside of heredity, such as damage to lymphatic vessels or lymph nodes (cancer, surgery, trauma).

I’ll never be attractive/be active/live a normal life again with lymphedema.

People living with lymphedema can enjoy normal, healthy lifestyles. Taking a night out on the town, traveling, staying active and making new connections can all still happen with lymphedema.

By following physician guidance, getting routine therapy, managing symptoms, wearing compression as instructed and practicing self-care, most people with lymphedema can live the life of their choosing.

For more information about lymphedema, its causes and treatments, click on the Sigvaris Lymphedema resource.

Further reading