Edema is swelling produced by expansion of the fluid in the tissue; when massive and generalized, the excess fluid accumulation is called anasarca. A variety of conditions are associated with the development of edema, including heart failure, liver disease, and kidney disease, as well as local conditions such as venous and lymphatic disease.
Lymphedema is swelling that occurs in arms or legs. While there is presently no cure for lymphedema, it can be managed with early diagnosis and diligent care of your affected limb. Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice persistent swelling in your arm or leg. If you already have the diagnosis of lymphedema of a limb, see your doctor if there is a sudden dramatic increase in the size of the involved limb, as it may suggest a new process is occurring.
Lower extremity lymphedema may be related to prior surgery, radiation treatment, trauma, or infection. It is also common to see lower extremity lymphedema be related to chronic venous insufficiency/varicose vein disease, known as phlebolymphedema. The interaction between the lymphatic system and problematic lower extremity superficial venous issues is gaining wider recognition worldwide.
For some patients with phlebolymphedema, addressing underlying venous issues may help with controlling lower extremity swelling. The lymphatic system, which is also part of your immune system, relies on a small caliber network of vessels to convey fluid out of the space between the body’s cells known as the interstitium. Damage or blockage of these vessels prevents lymph fluid from draining well, and the fluid buildup leads to swelling. Persistent lymphatic fluid accumulation the lower extremities may also lead to chronic thickening of the skin and accumulation of adipocytes (fat cells), resulting in a special type of lymphedema, known as lipedema.