That Looks Swollen       

Remember I mentioned that several readers have asked questions that would become blogs? For example, one reader’s question became last week’s blog concerning creatinine and PTH. Another reader’s question became this week’s blog about lymphedema. She was diagnosed with it and wondered if it had anything to do with her protein buildup.

She’s a long time reader and online friend, so she already knows I remind those that ask questions that I am not a doctor and, no matter what I discover, she must speak with her nephrologist before taking any action based on what I wrote. That is always true. I’m a CKD patient just like you. The only difference is that I know how to research (Teaching college level Research Writing taught me a lot.) and happen to have been a writer for decades before I was diagnosed. Just take a look at my Amazon Author Page at amazon.com/author/gailraegarwood . But enough about me.

Anyone know what lymphedema is? I didn’t when I first heard the word, although my Hunter College of C.U.N.Y education as an English teacher gave me some clues. Edema had something to do with swelling under the skin. Actually, we can get more specific with The Free Medical Dictionary at https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/-edema :

“suffix meaning swelling resulting from an excessive accumulation of serous fluid in the tissues of the body in (specified) locations”

I took a guess that lymph had to do with the lymph nodes. Using the same dictionary, but this time at https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/lymph, I found this:

“The almost colourless fluid that bathes body tissues and is found in the lymphatic vessels that drain the tissues of the fluid that filters across the blood vessel walls from blood. Lymph carries antibodies and lymphocytes (white blood cells that help fight infection) that have entered the lymph nodes from the blood.”

Time to attach the suffix (group of letters added at the end of a word that changes its meaning) to the root (most basic meaning of the word) to come up with a definition of lymphedema. No, not my definition, the same dictionary’s.

“Swelling, especially in subcutaneous tissues, as a result of obstruction of lymphatic vessels or lymph nodes, with accumulation of lymph in the affected region.”

I found this definition at https://www.thefreedictionary.com/lymphedema, but if you switch the search options at the top of the page from dictionary to medical dictionary, you’ll find quite a bit of information about lymphedema.

Okay, we know what lymphedema is now but what – if anything – does that have to do with protein buildup? This is the closest I could come to an answer that

  1. Wasn’t too medical for me to understand and
  2. Had anything to do with the kidneys.

“A thorough medical history and physical examination are done to rule out other causes of limb swelling, such as edema due to congestive heart failure, kidney failure, blood clots, or other conditions.”

It’s from MedicineNet at https://www.medicinenet.com/lymphedema/article.htm#how_is_lymphedema_diagnosed

My friend, while a Chronic Kidney Disease patient, is not in renal failure. Was there something I missed?

Johns Hopkins Medicine at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/treating-lymphedema gives us our first clue. It seems that lymphedema is a buildup of a specific fluid: protein-rich:

“Lymphedema is an abnormal buildup of protein-rich fluid in any part of the body as a result of malfunction in the lymphatic system.”

Malfunction in the lymphatic system? What could cause that? According to Lymphatic Education & Research at https://lymphaticnetwork.org/living-with-lymphedema/lymphatic-disease:

Secondary Lymphedema (acquired regional lymphatic insufficiency) is a disease that is common among adults and children in the United States. It can occur following any trauma, infection or surgery that disrupts the lymphatic channels or results in the loss of lymph nodes. Among the more than 3 million breast cancer survivors alone, acquired or secondary lymphedema is believed to be present in approximately 30% of these individuals, predisposing them to the same long-term problems as described above. Lymphedema also results from prostate, uterine, cervical, abdominal, orthopedic cosmetic (liposuction) and other surgeries, malignant melanoma, and treatments used for both Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Radiation, sports injuries, tattooing, and any physical insult to the lymphatic pathways can also cause lymphedema. Even though lymphatic insufficiency may not immediately present at the time any of the events occur, these individuals are at life-long risk for the onset of lymphedema.”

I know the reader who has asked the question has a complex medical history that may include one or more of the conditions listed above. As for the protein buildup, we already know that kidneys which are

not working well don’t filter the protein from your blood as well as they could. So, is there a connection between this reader’s protein buildup and her lymphedema? Sure looks like it.

While the following is from BreastCancer.org at https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/lymphedema/how/start, it is a simple explanation that may apply to other causes of lymphedema, too:

“… lymph nodes and vessels can’t keep up with the tissues’ need to get rid of extra fluid, proteins (Gail here: my bolding), and waste.… the proteins and wastes do not get filtered out of the lymph as efficiently as they once did. Very gradually, waste and fluid build up…. “

Ready for a topic change? The World Health Organization offers this pictograph for our information. Notice diabetes, one of the main causes of Chronic Kidney Disease.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Excellent blog Gail as I am the friend with lymphedema. I am seeing my nephrologist tomorrow with this new diagnosis. I will let you know what she says. I think I have had this way before my kidney issues (2012) but curious what she says. Will update you of course.

    • Thanks, Merry. I’m eager to see what your nephrologist has to say.

  2. There are many causes of edema. My foot and ankle edema started when I was pre-diabetic. Kidney function was normal. An ultrasound was done to insure that I had adequate blood flow to my feet. It was normal.

    Many years later, I read in a book Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D. that this problem is sometimes helped by supplementing B6 (pyridoxal-5-phosphate) with magnesium and a few other supplements.

    I tried it. My edema, which I’d had for more than 10 years went away. I now take a B-complex made from whole foods. So long as I take it, foot and ankle swelling is no longer a problem. Walking daily probably helps too.

    This old article is interesting from the Cleveland Clinic is interesting…
    https://www.mdedge.com/ccjm/article/90118/edema-due-vitamin-b-deficiency

    You can also do a Google search on “B6 edema” to learn more.

  3. Now home from work, I pulled out my book by Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D. Now I’m not sure if I took vitamin B5 or B6 with a B-complex for my foot and ankle edema. I may have to re-read the book to retrieve the information. After looking around the internet, it appears both can be helpful for mild edema. Perhaps taking a good quality B-complex would be helpful.

  4. I experienced some swelling during pregnancy and I think the doctor also referred to it as edema. The infographic you shared, the last one about avoiding certain foods is important but could be the hardest to commit to.

    • Yes, that swelling was edema; remember what the word means. Edema has many causes. Luckily, not all edema is Lymphedema. Neither is all edema permanent, just as your pregnancy edema wasn’t. As for the foods, hearing you have a medical condition can be a strong motivator for compliance. I’m glad to hear your edema was temporary.


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