Lymphedema is lymphatic obstruction, a condition in which localized fluid retention and tissue swelling is caused due to a compromised lymphatic system. The lymphatic system returns the interstitial fluid to the thoracic duct and then back to the bloodstream. The fluid is then recirculates back to the tissues. Infection is common in tissues with lymphedema. Lymphedema is most commonly a condition that can only be managed and not entirely healed. Venous insufficiency can compound the problem and treating the underlying venous problems can offer lymphedema patients relief and the opportunity to better manage the condition.
Symptoms include a feeling of heaviness or fullness, swelling or edema, and aching pain in the affected area. In advanced lymphedema, there may be the presence of skin changes such as discoloration and even deformity of the leg such as elephantiasis. Lymphedema can be differentiated from edema arising from venous insufficiency as lymphedema usually involves swelling of the foot and venous insufficiency only involves the leg and ankle. Swelling at the base of the second digit is a common indicator of lymphedema. Untreated venous insufficiency can progress into a combined venous/lymphatic disorder which is treated conservatively the same way as lymphedema. It is not uncommon to have a combination of varicose veins, venous insufficiency, spider veins and lymphedema all at the same time.