In most parts of African countries, any chronic disease is deemed a curse from God or other gods, as punishment for immoral acts either by their ancestors or themselves. People with chronic diseases are neglected and sometimes quarantined with no food and water. Some become a burden to their families and the society in which they found themselves. Talking of lymphoedema, it’s one of the incurable diseases that most of our African countries are ignorant of. People with such conditions are either being sent to Pastors or spiritual fathers for cure. Young women with this condition are sometimes suspected to be pregnant due to the swelling of the lower limb but there are more to learn and to know about this condition.
Lymphoedema is a long-term (chronic) condition that causes swelling in the body's tissues. It can affect any part of the body, but usually develops in the arms or legs. It develops when the lymphatic system doesn't work properly. The lymphatic system is a network of channels and glands throughout the body that helps fight infection and remove excess fluid. It's important that lymphoedema is identified and treated as soon as possible. If it isn't treated, it can get worse.
The main symptom of lymphoedema is swelling in all or part of a limb or another part of the body. It can be difficult to fit into clothes, and jewelry and watches can feel tight. At first, the swelling may come and go. It may get worse during the day and go down overnight. Without treatment, it will usually become more severe and persistent. Other symptoms in an affected body part can include: an aching, heavy feeling, difficulty with movement, repeated skin infections, hard, tight skin, folds developing in the skin, wart-like growths developing on the skin, fluid leaking through the skin.
Lymphoedema is caused by a problem with the lymphatic system, a network of vessels and glands spread throughout the body. The main functions of the lymphatic system are helping fight infection and draining excess fluid from tissues.
There are two main types of lymphoedema.
Primary lymphoedema is caused by alterations (mutations) in genes responsible for the development of the lymphatic system. The "faulty" genes cause the parts of the lymphatic system responsible for draining fluid to not develop properly or not work as they should. Primary lymphoedema often runs in families, although not every child born to someone with the condition will develop it themselves.
Secondary lymphoedema develops in people who previously had a normal lymphatic system that then becomes damaged. It can have a number of different causes. Some of the most common causes are below: surgery for cancer, radiotherapy, infection, Filariasis, Inflammation, venous diseases, Obesity, trauma and injury, immobility.
If you're being treated for cancer and are at risk of developing lymphoedema, you'll be monitored for the condition afterward. Otherwise, see your GP if you experience symptoms of swelling. In many cases, it's possible to diagnose lymphoedema by: asking about your symptoms and medical history, examining the affected limb and measuring the distance around it to see if it's enlarged. Your GP may refer you to a specialist lymphoedema treatment centre for further assessment. Further tests: In most cases, further tests aren't necessary, but they may occasionally be used to assess and monitor your condition. Measuring limb volume, Bioimpedance testing, Imaging tests.
The recommended treatment for lymphoedema is decongestive lymphatic therapy (DLT). DLT isn't a cure for lymphoedema, but it can help control the symptoms. Although it takes time and effort, the treatment can be used to bring lymphoedema under control.
Decongestive lymphatic therapy (DLT). There are four components to DLT:
compression bandages – to complement exercise by moving fluid out of the affected limb and minimise further build-up
skin care – to keep the skin in good condition and reduce the chances of infection
exercises – to use muscles in the affected limb to improve lymph drainage
specialized massage techniques – known as manual lymphatic drainage (MLD); this stimulates the flow of fluid in the lymphatic system and reduces swelling
DLT is an intensive phase of therapy, during which you may receive daily treatment for several weeks to help reduce the volume of the affected body part. This is followed by a second phase called the maintenance phase. You'll be encouraged to take over your care using simple self-massage techniques, wearing compression garments, and continuing to exercise. This treatment phase aims to maintain the reduced size of the affected body part. You'll have reviews every few months to check how your treatment is progressing. Incurable diseases and conditions can’t be cured but it can be treated and be managed. Africans should be educated about this condition. People with this condition needs to be loved and be catered for.
Dr. Kingsley Preko
Dr. A. T. Derick
Pastor Oteng Sarfo Patrick (S.D.A)
Mr. Mark Ennin
Mr. Emmanuel Alibah (Auditor)
Mr. Kojo Kronzuwa
Written by Jemima Sarfo Amponsah
Physician Assistant Student
University of Cape Coast.