Lymphedema is the build-up of fluid in the soft tissue of the body. This usually occurs in the arms, legs and hands, but it may happen in other places. The swelling it causes is disfiguring as well as painful and can lead to serious infection. Both primary and secondary lymphedema are caused by problems with the lymphatic system. The purpose of the lymphatic system is to cycle fluids through the body which carry nutrients and take away infections. Primary lymphedema is an inherited condition and secondary lymphedema is caused by trauma to the lymph system.
Secondary lymphedema is associated with surgical procedures, burns and radiation for cancer. Medical personnel watch patients carefully to see if it develops. Certain medications, blood clots, deep vein thrombosis and parasitic infections can also provoke lymphedema.
When the protein-rich fluids are not circulating and become stagnant in the soft tissue they can cause tissue channels to increase in size and number and reduce the amount of oxygen that is circulating throughout the body. This can hamper wound healing and provide a medium where bacteria can grow.
One of the most popular treatments for this condition is lymphedema bandages. They put pressure on the swelling and assist the fluid to move out of the area. These bandages are a popular treatment because they are inexpensive, non-invasive and easy to wear. They must be applied so that the pressure is evenly distributed over the affected area.
Short-stretch bandages do not stretch much and give more resistance against the muscles. Their name does not mean that they are short in length. Short-stretch bandages are better than long-stretch bandages for certain cases, because the long ones stretch a lot and when not applied properly may become too tight and act as a tourniquet that blocks circulation.
The short-stretch bandages are tightly woven cotton and have less elasticity than bandages used for sprains or other injuries. They have a high working pressure to support the evacuation of fluid from the arm or leg when the patient is active. The pressure massages the muscles while the patient moves, which hastens the healing process. Long-stretch bandages may stretch to twice their original size and typically do not give the massage effect.
The bandage should be wrapped in the proper way by a caregiver when the swelling is low. The swelling may be reduced after exercise or through massage. The pressure forces the fluid out and does not allow it to reenter, which should stop the swelling from returning.
When the skin is swollen it may have a tendency to tear. Without proper care, these tears may become infected. Infections should be attended to immediately, but they can be prevented by applying lotion on the affected area to keep the skin soft and flexible.
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