Who exactly is at risk for developing lymphedema depends on the type of lymphedema in question. While there is research that suggests that there are nearly 100 million people worldwide that suffer from lymphedema, most healthy individuals are likely to never see or feel the effects of lymphedema.
Lymphedema most commonly occurs when the lymph system has been comprised either genetically or through a traumatic injury. Lymphedema comes in two forms: Primary Lymphedema and Secondary Lymphedema. Primary lynmphedema (PLE) is often associated with it being inherited and is caused by a defect of the formation of the lymph system before birth (congenital), but it can develop at the onset of puberty (praecox) or in adulthood (tarda), all from unknown causes. Secondary lymphedema (SLE) is often the result of damage being done to the lymphatic system after birth. Most frequently this is caused by cancer, cancer treatment, or radiation. SLE can also be caused from injures, other types of surgeries, burns and the crushing of the lymphatic system from weight.
The earlier lymphedema is diagnosed and the sooner treatment is sought, the more likely a person can avoid the potentially serious complications brought on by the conditions. Lymphedema is not preventable if the lymph system has been compromised. For those that have not had their lymph system compromised there are a number of warning signs that may indicate onset of lymphedema.
1) A gradual, consistent swelling of a limb. This is accompanied by a feeling of heaviness or tightness in the limb. Examples of this can be seen in a ring that no longer fits, or shoes that seem feel too tight or no longer fits properly.
2) A dull aching or decreased mobility in a limb or joint due to the increased weight or swelling of the limb.
3) Pitting in a limb where a pressure indentation that only goes away gradually over several minutes.
4) A limb that has a “pins and needles” sensation as the swelling weight puts increased pressure on nerves in the affected limb or area.
5) A decrease in the flexibility of joints in the limb, including the hand, wrist, ankle, or elbow. In some cases this may include the hip or the shoulder area of the effected limb.
6) Changes in the texture of the skin, shiny, fewer folds or even a thickening of the skin.
This list is by no means meant to be the only check list for determining if you have lymphedema. If you feel that you any of these signs you should quickly see your primary physician to discuss warning signs for lymphedema.