March has several distinctions in the health care field. It’s National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, National Kidney Month, National Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month and National Nutrition Month just to name a few. It’s also Lymphedema Awareness Month, which brings attention to a chronic condition that millions of Americans deal with every day. Even if you’ve never heard of lymphedema, there’s a good chance you know someone who has experienced it. And if you have an undiagnosed swelling problem, you may be experiencing it yourself.
“Your body has a lymph system that works together with your veins to keep fluid and waste from collecting in parts of your body,” said Andi Heinemann from Blount Memorial’s MEND clinic. “If you have a swelling problem, you may be one of more than 10 million Americans who have a form of edema related to a struggling lymph system. There are many reasons the body’s lymph system can fail. Cancer treatments, age, surgery, poor veins, injuries and genetics all can result in the lymph system being unable to return fluid out of the skin. Heart, kidney and liver conditions also can result in swelling. These problems lead to swollen, heavy body parts that also become a high risk for infection and wounds,” she explained.
If left untreated, lymphedema can lead to harmful disabilities and disorders. “When you see swelling, you are looking at a mixture of many things,” Heinemann continued. “Fluid is there, along with waste and by products of cell life that can lead to permanent skin damage. The risk then goes up for getting infection and wounds. This can happen slowly or quickly depending on a person’s health and genetics. Often, it is left untreated for too long, and by the time a person seeks help for his or her condition, there has been a serious infection or wound that has led to the person being hospitalized with a life-threatening condition,” she explained. “If the person has a weaker lymph or venous system because of genetics, a planned medical procedure, such as a joint replacement, can cause the swelling to begin. There are many ways the problem can form, but once you have it, the earlier you get treatment and therapy, the better your chances are of preventing these serious problems,” she added.
Fortunately, Heinemann says there is hope for people experiencing lymphedema. “Blount Memorial’s MEND clinic offers a treatment process called ‘complete decongestive therapy’ that can work excess fluid and waste out of your body and put into place the things you need to keep it under control,” she said. “Keeping swelling out will help decrease infection and prevent wounds from developing. Our patients often find they can move around easier, have more energy and have less discomfort, all of which helps make their lives better. We are creatures made to move, so doing what we need to do to keep ourselves going, to keep our body systems balanced and functioning properly, always pays off. We know swelling of any type can be a showstopper, and we want to keep you at your best. Blount Memorial’s MEND clinic is here just for that reason. We have nurse practitioners, physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists who work together to create success for our patients,” she added.
For more information about Blount Memorial’s MEND clinic or to schedule an appointment, call 865-980-5089.