Not all swelling is lymphedema. A number of times swelling of a hand, an arm, leg or foot can be the result of an underlying medical condition. Unexplained swelling needs to be looked over by a doctor to determine the underlying cause. This is not necessarily lymphedema, it could be edema.
Edema is defined as the abnormal pooling of fluid in the soft tissues. This swelling can be the enlargement of organs, skin, or other body parts. The extra fluid can lead to a rapid increase in weight over a short period of time (days to weeks).
This condition can be caused by the accumulation of fluid in bodily tissues or a body cavity. Most often a result of diseases of the liver, heart, and kidneys, edema is directly caused by salt retention. Besides the legs and feet, other main areas where fluid can build up include the lungs (alveoli), the abdomen or peritoneal cavity, and the chest. When it occurs in the lungs, it is called pulmonary edema and is usually caused by heart failure. The condition may be caused by increased pressure in the capillaries, blocking of vein, varicose veins, thrombophlebitis, venous obstruction, pressure from casts, tight bandages, congestive heart failure, kidney failure, liver cirrhosis, overactive adrenal glands, steroid therapy or inflammatory reactions.
It can be throughout the body which is referred to as generalized edema. It can also occur in a specific region, part or even spot, then it is called localized edema. There are two types — pitting and non-pitting — and knowing which kind a person has can help a medical professional diagnose the cause. With pitting edema, the swollen area shows indentations when it’s touched, and may hold the lines from the socks or stockings. The non-pitting type does not retain an indentation and is often seen in people with lymphatic system problems or hypothyroidism.
While lymphedema is further defined through out the site, for the purposes of this discussion lymphedema is a response which happens when the lymphatic system is impaired (in an area) to the extent that it cannot handle the amount of fluid present. Lymphedema can be caused by excess protein-rich lymph which cannot be moved to a lymph node to dump in the circulatory system. Further lymphedema can be a compromised tissue response to injury with slow healing and /or a infection. Damage to the lymphatic system (accident or surgical intervention) may cause lymphedema or it may be congenital. Swelling manifests itself near the damaged area. In early stages a finger pressed into the affected area leaves a temporary indentation. This is pitting edema. In later stages the tissue bounces back with out any indentation. Lymphedema is harmed, not helped by diuretics. Diuretics stimulate the kidneys to remove fluid from the body. In areas affected by lymphedema, tissue fluid is reduced which produces higher levels of protein. This can lead to swelling and hardening of the tissues.