What is lymphedema?Lymphedema is a lifelong health condition caused by a buildup of lymphatic fluid that leads to tissue swelling, most often in the hands/arms, feet/legs or trunk of the body. It can also develop in the genitals, head or neck. Children of all ages can develop lymphedema, although it is not very common. Some children are born with a faulty lymphatic system and develop primary lymphedema, either from birth or later in childhood. Primary lymphedema is rare, affecting about 1 in 100,000 children. The causes of primary lymphedema are not yet clear, but there may be a genetic link. Other children develop secondary lymphedema as a result of damage to their lymphatic system due to surgery, radiation therapy, infection or an injury. Most often, secondary lymphedema in children develops after cancer treatment or as a side effect of another health condition, like Turner syndrome.
Signs of lymphedemaIf you see the following signs in your child, please contact a lymphedema therapist for an assessment:
- Swelling of an arm, leg, the genitals, trunk of the body, neck or head. The swelling may come on suddenly or gradually and may come and go.
- You/your child may notice that clothing or shoes don’t fit well over the area of swelling.
- The swollen area may be hard to move or bend.
- Your child may complain of heaviness, tightness or tingling (like pins-and-needles) in the area of swelling.
- Swelling may be worse at the end of the day or after your child has been active.
Getting a diagnosisEarly diagnosis is the first important step in managing lymphedema. At Haley Rehab, our approach begins with an assessment of your child; to understand who your child is, what they love doing, your family’s medical history (including anyone with chronic – or lasting – swelling in the family), health conditions your child has been treated for, any current signs and symptoms, as well as their general health and well-being. We’ll talk to you and your child, do a physical examination, and we’ll also do some tests to rule out other health conditions.
Treatment for your childWith the assessment complete, we’ll be able to provide a diagnosis and to work with you and your child to develop a treatment plan. How active your child is in their treatment planning will depend on their age and maturity. We see your child as an active participant in their well-being and will work to engage and inform them as much as possible. This is important as lymphedema is a lifelong condition and self-care is a key part of successful treatment. Your child’s treatment plan will include the following:
- Manual lymphatic drainage massage and other therapies, to help stimulate lymphatic flow.
- Compression therapy with bandaging and/or custom-fitted clothing, to help contain and reduce swelling.
- Education in good skin care practices, to help reduce the risk of infection.
- Special exercises to help stimulate the lymphatic system.
- If your child is going through cancer treatment or another health condition, we will also be able to help manage other side effects.