Science and Tech


Lymphedema Isn't Just A Hereditary Disease — It Can Affect Anyone

If you've never heard of lymphedema, we're here to help.
Posted at 12:08 PM, Mar 06, 2017

Monday is World Lymphedema Day. 

It's a disease you might not have heard of. But in the U.S., more people suffer from lymphedema and other lymphatic diseases than multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, ALS, Parkinson's disease and AIDS combined.

Lymphedema isn't life-threatening on its own but causes painful and disfiguring swelling in different places throughout the body. The swelling is caused by fluid buildup due to damage in the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system is the main way your body filters molecules too large to travel in the blood stream. Those with chronic lymphedema can develop a complication called lymphangiosarcoma, which has a less than 10 percent survival rate over five years.

There are two types of lymphedema. Primary forms of the disease are all hereditary, and patients see its onset anytime from infancy through adulthood.

Those who suffer from secondary forms of lymphedema usually get the disease through an infection, traumatic injury, surgery, cancer or even cancer treatments.

Unfortunately, that means the people who face the greatest risk of lymphedema are also some of the most vulnerable. Cancer survivors and veterans are especially susceptible to the disease.

There's currently no cure for the lymphedema. Treatments mostly focus on easing pain and keeping the swelling down — usually with compression. For extreme cases, surgery might be necessary. 

The Lymphatic Education & Research Network wants to make lymphedema the focus of World Health Day next year. There's a petition on for the cause.