THE LYMPHATIC SYSTEM
WHAT IS LYMPH?
The fluid found between the cells throughout the body needs to be drained. This is done by the blood vessels and the lymph vessels. When fluid between the cells is drained into the lymphatic vessels it is called lymph. Lymph is fluid that is rich in protein and assists in removing excess fluid, proteins and bacteria from the cells in the body.
DO YOU GET DIFFERENT TYPES OF LYMPH?
The make up of lymph differs depending on where in the body it is found. Lymph that is found in the intestine is high in fat and is known as Chile. It is a creamy colour due to the high amounts of fat. Lymph that has moved through a lymph node will usually contain more white blood cells, while lymph that has not yet entered a lymph node contains more bacteria.
WHAT IS A LYMPH NODE?
A lymph node is a small filter. All lymph has to travel through a lymph node before it is returned to the bloodstream. Lymph nodes form an important part of the immune system. White blood cells are found inside lymph nodes and assist in fighting bacteria and other foreign bodies that are taken to the lymph node though the lymph.
WHERE ARE THE LYMPH NODES?
Lymph nodes occur all over the body, with the most nodes centralized in the armpit, groin and neck.
What, when and how of lymph drainage?
Lymph drainage is natural process in the body. It is the bodies way of getting rid of excess fluids, proteins and bacteria that cannot be drained by the blood vessels. When the body is unable to drain this fluid by itself, there is a build up of fluids and bacteria that requires external assistance in order to drain. This can happen in any part of the body, but is most often seen in the arms, legs, face, neck and genitals. This fluid can then be removed the Complete Decongestive Therapy.
COMPLETE DECONGESTIVE THERAPY
A certified lymphoedema therapist will conduct an in depth assessment, and together with you, will plan the best way forward for therapy.
CDT helps the impaired or damaged lymphatic system to function better and reduces the collection of lymph fluid in the affected limb.
We make use of modalities such as Manual Lymph Drainage (a gentle massage), compression therapy, nutritional education, prevention and precaution education, skin and nail cares and exercise programmes.
LYMPHOEDEMA RISK REDUCTION TIPS
It is important to be be proactive about risk prevention and reduction in your life. If you are at risk but have not yet developed lymphoedema the following tips could prevent you from expereincing the symptoms of lymphodema. And if you have been diagnosed with lymphoedema they can help you with managing your day to day life without unwanted flare ups.
The following information was adapted from www.laosa.co.za. Please visit their website for more information.
PROTECT YOUR SKIN:
Your skin is your body's barrier to the world. Infections are one of the biggest factors causing lymphoedema to worsen and advance. It is vital to minimize the risk of getting an infection. Daily cleansing and moisturising of your arm or leg is important to keep the skin clean, soft and supple and to reduce the risk of cellulitis (skin infection). Cracked, dry or broken skin can be an entry point for infection. Wear rubber gloves for housework and long sleeves and protective gloves when gardening. Infections could result from cuts, injections, insect bites, scratches, burns or sunburn. Treat any possible infection promptly by washing with soap and water and apply an antiseptic or antibiotic cream. If the area becomes painful, red or swollen, rash appears or you have a temperature or flu-like symptoms, seek medical help immediately.
WATCH OUT FOR TRAUMA:
Any trauma to your limb that is at risk can overload your lymphatic system’s ability to compensate. Never allow anyone to take bloods, give injections or drips, or take blood pressure from your affected limb. Bloods, injections and blood pressure measurements can be done using other limbs that are not at risk. Please be assertive where possible.
OPTIMISING YOUR WEIGHT:
Excess weight may slow the lymph flow. Mostly if overweight people lose some of their excess weight, they will notice a decrease (not cure) in their lymphoedema. Conversely, if a person with lymphoedema gains weight, they will see an increase in their lymphoedema as well. It is important to eat well, healthily and aim for your ideal body weight. Too little or too much exercise: Muscle movement increases lymph flow and reduces the risk of fluids accumulating. It is better to do gentle regular exercise than occasional bursts of intense exercise. Increasing the intensity or weight during exercise should be done very slowly and by observing any effect on the swelling. Swimming is excellent exercise for people with lymphoedema. Find it is most important to find the exercise routine which suits you.
OVERHEATING YOUR BODY
Sun, hot baths, spas, saunas, excessive exercise, sprains, bruises – all these cause lymph flow to increase and may overload the lymph vessels
Sitting still on long car or bus trips and pressure variations in planes may reduce lymph flow. Prolonged standing, sitting or crossing legs will do so in those with a leg at risk. Support garment and simple movement will assist
HOLDING HEAVY PARCELS:
This can reduce lymph flow from an arm at risk. Work up to carrying heavy items, check for swelling, find out what suits you
CONSTRICTIONS TO THE LIMB:
Blood pressure cuffs, tourniquets, narrow bra straps, tight clothes, tight jewellery or watches may reduce lymph flow.