What is the Difference Between
Edema and Lymphedema?
What is Edema?
Edema is the formal scientific word that simply means “swelling.” Regular edema is what happens when there has been an injury to the body. In an attempt to repair the damaged tissue, the circulatory system (heart/blood) rushes protein and nutrient rich fluid to the affected area. This results in inflammation and edema (swelling).
Over a period of time as the healing progresses the edema goes down. The tissues then return to their normal size. There are generally no permanent tissue changes that come as a direct result of the swelling.
What is Lymphedema?
In Lymphedema there is persistent swelling over a long period of time that results in permanent tissue changes to that area of the body. Whereas edema is temporary and resolves on its own, in Lymphedema the swelling does not go away. Lymphedema is a disease that is caused by chronic, or persistent, swelling that does not resolve.
The protein-rich lymphatic fluid that comes to the affected area stays. Because the fluid is not removed as it should be by the lymphatic system, the protein continues to build up. This results in tissue changes like fibrosis, or hardening of the tissues. As the disease of Lymphedema progresses, the body begins to lay down layers of adipose tissue (fat) in addition to the fibrotic (hard) tissue.
The Difference Between Edema and Lymphedema
In short, Edema is a temporary condition that will go away in time, usually with no special treatment or intervention.
Lymphedema is a progressive condition that continues to worsen over time. Without intervention to keep the swelling at bay it will get worse instead of better. Without management of lymphedema serious health complications can result.
What Are the Two Main Types of Lymphedema?
Primary Lymphedema is something that people get because they have genes which cause the lymphatic system to be abnormal in some way. Due to this abnormality lymph does not move properly in the body and stagnates in one or more areas. This long-term stagnation of lymph results in the tissue changes characteristic of lymphedema including swelling, formation of fibrotic (hard) tissue, and fat deposition.
There are several genetic syndromes that cause Primary Lymphedema, including Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome, Turner Syndrome, Noonan Syndrome, Distichiasis, Prader-Willi Syndrome, and Parks Weber Syndrome. Due to the fact that lymphedema is grossly under-diagnosed, it is not known how many people actually suffer from primary lymphedema.
Secondary Lymphedema is the most common type of Lymphedema in the US. As opposed to Primary Lymphedema where the cause is based on genetic factors, Secondary Lymphedema is acquired from factors outside of the body. These causes can include surgery, radiation, cancer, Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI), trauma, obesity, and filariasis (caused by roundworms).
According to the National Institutes of Health, Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema (BCRL), a type of secondary lymphedema, occurs in 40% of breast cancer patients.
Edema and Lymphedema can both benefit from lymphatic drainage. Two different styles of lymphatic drainage are available at Pain & Swelling Solutions: Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) and Electro-Lymphatic Therapy.
With Edema, lymphatic drainage is usually enough to reduce the swelling. Although it isn’t absolutely necessary, it is extremely helpful in quickly reducing swelling and pain and speeding healing.
In the case of Lymphedema, Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) is required to bring down the swelling and fibrosis and then maintain that swelling reduction.
At Pain & Swelling Solutions we offer all of these therapy options. Make your appointment with Pain & Swelling Solutions today so we can help you feel better soon!