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This syndrome usually develops within the first few weeks after breast cancer surgery. Typically you will feel or see rope like structures under the skin of your inner arm starting in the armpit and extending down to the elbow or wrist. These cords may also be seen extending down the chest wall. Cords may appear as one thick band or as several thin threads. Raising your arm up to your side will make the cords stretch and stand out.
The concern with cording is loss of motion. Raising your arm above shoulder level or straightening your elbow may become painful and difficult. This can translate into problems with activities of daily living.
Gravity works to pool fluid in the legs. For this reason we have valves in our veins that resist back flow. As we age especially in those who are overweight, these valves begin to fail.
Initially edema will be mild and easily reversible by raising the legs. Our lymphatic system is picking up the extra fluid load. Eventually the lymphatics are overloaded and the edema now takes on more of the characteristics of lymphedema. This edema is now of mixed origin and called phlebo-lymphedema.
Swelling caused by a DVT (deep vein thrombosis) can become chronic. Eventually symptoms become those of chronic venous insufficiency
Lipedema an abnormality of adipose tissue is often confused for lymphedema or obesity. Few in the medical community are even familiar with this condition that is now estimated to affect up to 11% of adult women. Its onset often accompanies periods of hormonal change such as puberty, pregnancy or menopause. Typically a person suffering from Lipedema is much heavier on the lower half of their body and if they do lose weight it is from their upper body. The legs may be painful to touch and bruise easily. We talk about a Lipo-lymphedema when fluid begins to be trapped within this fatty matrix.
All of the above conditions are chronic and unfortunately incurable. Just as a diabetic must control their blood sugar to prevent complications so too must a person suffering from chronic edema. The treatment is called Complete Decongestive Therapy and it is imperative that it is performed by a trained certified medical professional.