Lymphedema is a condition that occurs when lymphatic fluid builds up in limbs, primarily in the arms and legs, due to missing, damaged, weakened or removed lymph vessels or lymph nodes. Lymphedema is more common in older individuals, especially those who are struggling with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, excess weight or obesity.
The most common cause of lymphedema is damage to the lymph nodes or having a lymphadenectomy (a surgery to remove the lymph nodes). In order for the immune system to work properly, normal lymph drainage needs to occur; this involves the filtration of fluid through the lymph nodes to trap bacteria, viruses and other harmful substances, all of which are destroyed by lymphocytes (special white blood cells). When too much fluid that is not drained accumulates in an affected limb, lymphedema may develop.
Lymphedema may not be obvious at first. However, a doctor can test for this condition using MRI scans, CT scans and/or ultrasounds. Radionuclides can also be injected in order for a doctor to scan images and look for blockages in your lymph vessels.