Lymphedema Infections

What to Know About Lymphedema and Infections

Infections are a serious concern for lymphedema patients, so learning how to decrease the risk of infection is an important part of preventing complications. Patients with lymphedema are also more prone to infections due to swelling that can cause open sores and cracks in the skin. If you’re living with lymphedema, you should know about the link between lymphedema and infections and the steps you can take to minimize your risk of complications. In this article, we’ll discuss what you need to know about lymphedema and infections, including how to reduce your risk of developing an infection and what to do if you have an infection.

What Is Lymphedema?
Can Infections Cause Lymphedema?
What Are the Signs of a Lymphedema Infection?
What Do You Do If You Think You Have an Infection With Lymphedema?
How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Infection With Lymphedema?
Can You Treat Lymphedema?
Treat Lymphedema From Home With Tactile Medical

What Is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a medical condition that refers to tissue swelling caused by an accumulation of protein-rich fluid that’s usually drained through the body’s lymphatic system. Fluid from the lymphatic system travels through lymph vessels and nodes, which helps regulate fluid levels in the body and fight infection. When a lymph node or vessel is underdeveloped or damaged, it can lead to swelling as a result of built-up fluid. This swelling can eventually lead to numerous symptoms and complications, including pain, tightness of the skin, and cellulitis. For patients with lymphedema who develop cellulitis, the infection can be particularly dangerous if left untreated.

There are also different types of lymphedema. Primary lymphedema is a genetic condition that occurs as a result of genetic mutations that lead to malformation of the lymphatic system, while secondary lymphedema is damage caused by some form of cancer or acute trauma, such as an injury, surgery, or radiation therapy. Knowing the causes of lymphedema can help you get a better understanding of the condition.

Can Infections Cause Lymphedema?

Secondary lymphedema can be caused by a wide range of factors, such as cancer or injury, but can infections cause lymphedema? While many infections only affect the surface level of your skin, some infections can go deeper.

The link between lymphedema and infection is especially apparent with cellulitis, which is a bacterial infection that affects the deeper layers of tissue beneath your skin, typically in the arms and legs, but can be present anywhere in the body. If cellulitis is left untreated, it can eventually spread into the bloodstream and lymphatic system as well. These infections can cause damage to the lymphatic system, impacting your body’s ability to circulate lymph and other fluids. If lymphatics are damaged due to a cellulitis infection, it can result in swelling in the affected area, leading to lymphedema.1

Reducing your risk of infection and treating infections is important even if you’re not at risk for lymphedema. Even a minor infection that starts with a small cut can eventually become a serious medical issue. You should clean any cuts thoroughly and keep an eye out for signs of infection. If you have lymphedema, you need to be especially careful about avoiding cuts and scrapes and treating them in a timely manner.

What Are the Signs of a Lymphedema Infection?

If you have lymphedema, it’s important to be extra careful to make sure you’re minimizing your risks of infection. Keeping an eye out for signs of an infection can help you take the necessary steps to get treatment. Below are some of the signs that you may have a lymphedema infection:2

Signs of a lymphedema infection

  • Redness in the affected area: If you notice red skin around a cut or scrape, that could be a sign that the cut is becoming infected. This redness may spread far away from the cut as the infection gets worse.
  • Fever: As infections progress, you may have a slight fever. Your fever may worsen as the infection progresses. This is because your body is producing more white blood cells to fight off the infection, which can cause your body temperature to rise.
  • Flu-like symptoms: Infections that spread throughout the body can lead to flu-like symptoms, such as a cough, runny nose, fever, chills, and fatigue.
  • Swelling: You may notice the infected area is more swollen than usual, although it can be hard to detect swelling if you have lymphedema. Keep an eye out for any abnormal or new swelling that occurs near cuts or other injuries.
  • Pain: Many infections lead to pain, so an especially painful cut can be a sign of an infection.
  • Heat: If the skin around your cut is warm to the touch, that can be a sign that your body is working hard to fight off an infection. This is a common symptom of cellulitis and other serious infections.

What Do You Do If You Think You Have an Infection With Lymphedema?

As we mentioned previously, it’s particularly important for lymphedema patients to avoid infections. Even a minor cut or scratch can lead to a serious infection if you don’t treat the wound, and preventing those wounds in the first place is a crucial step. Here’s what you need to know about how to reduce your risk of lymphedema infections and avoid complications:

Tips for lymphedema patients to reduce risk of infection

  • Seek medical help immediately: Infections can lead to major complications for lymphedema patients, so don’t wait around and try to treat your infection at home. If you notice any of the signs of a cellulitis infection, you should visit a doctor or hospital right away. The longer you wait to treat an infection, the more likely it is to progress and cause further complications.
  • Monitor symptoms: Even if you’ve already been to a doctor or hospital to have your infection treated, you should keep a close eye on your symptoms. Infections can progress quickly, so it’s important to watch out for any signs that your infection is getting worse. If you suddenly notice an increase in pain or warmth in the area of a cut or scrape, you should talk to your doctor about other treatment options.
  • Keep the affected area clean: Keeping your skin clean — especially in the area near cuts — is an important part of preventing and treating infections. You should make sure any wounds are properly cleaned and treated in a timely manner and keep the skin clean in the following days. It’s also important to thoroughly dry your skin after cleaning it because moisture can create a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Stop lymphedema treatment until it’s safe to resume: Lymphedema treatment can help reduce swelling and other symptoms, but you should take a break from your lymphedema treatment regimen if you think you might have an infection. Compression garments and devices, exercise, and manual lymphatic drainage massages can irritate the infected area, which can cause more problems than these treatments solve. Talk with your doctor or specialist to determine if taking a break from lymphedema treatment is right for you, and then you can resume when your doctor provides approval.

How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Infection With Lymphedema?

If you have lymphedema, it’s important to keep up with all the preventative care that helps relieve symptoms and reduce your risk of complications. Here are some of the things you can try if you want to reduce your risk of infection with lymphedema:

  • Perform proper skin care: Your skin is more susceptible to damage if it’s dry, so make sure you’re properly moisturizing your legs, arms, and other areas prone to dry skin. Each time you shower, you should thoroughly wash and dry your skin before moisturizing to prevent cracks caused by dry skin that can make it easy for bacteria to enter.
  • Wear sunscreen: Sunburn can cause your skin to dry, peel, and blister, making it more susceptible to infection, especially for lymphedema patients. Sunscreen helps prevent sunburn that can lead to skin damage and potential infection, so make sure you’re wearing sunscreen and protective garments when spending time outside.
  • Use insect repellent: Insect bites can also lead to infection, so be sure to apply insect repellent if you’re spending time outdoors.
  • Use clean compression garments and bandages: Compression garments for lymphedema can lead to infections if you don’t keep them clean. Make sure you’re using clean compression garments and bandages at all times.
  • Treat open wounds: If you have any open wounds, clean and treat them right away to prevent infection.
  • Use electric razors: Electric razors can help you avoid cuts while shaving compared to metal razors that can cause nicks and cuts.
  • Perform proper nail care: Keep your nails trimmed properly to avoid accidentally cutting yourself. Nails are dirty and can easily lead to infection.

Can You Treat Lymphedema?

While there is no cure for lymphedema, there are several lymphedema treatment options that can help you reduce your symptoms and prevent its progression. Compression garments and pneumatic compression devices like the Flexitouch Plus System by Tactile Medical can help reduce swelling, while losing weight and performing light daily exercises can help relieve stress on your lymphatic system. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with lymphedema, you should talk to your doctor or specialist about lymphedema treatment options.

Treat Lymphedema From Home With Flexitouch Plus

Lymphedema can lead to numerous medical complications if you fail to manage and take care of symptoms. If you have lymphedema, you can talk to your doctor to find out more about lymphedema treatment options and how to decrease your risk of developing an infection when living with this condition.

With advanced pneumatic compression, getting relief from lymphedema at home is easy. The Flexitouch Plus System from Tactile Medical gives you targeted relief from swelling, so you can live comfortably and worry less about complications. Talk with your doctor about the Flexitouch Plus System from Tactile Medical and get relief from your lymphedema today.

1. LymphCare. Lymphedema and Infections.
2. Cancer Research UK. Infections and Lymphedema.