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Lymphedema is, put simply, a chronic swelling. It happens when there is damage to or a blockage in the lymphatic system, making it difficult for lymphatic fluid to drain properly. As a result, fluid accumulates in the soft tissues of the affected area.

There are two types of lymphedema: primary lymphedema, which is genetic; and secondary lymphedema, which is acquired. There are a number of reasons secondary lymphedema can develop, including parasitic infection, injury or trauma, cancer treatments (such as radiation therapy), removal of lymph nodes (for cancer biopsies), surgery, tumors, and skin infections — just to name a few.

Lymphedema is chronic and progressive, and unfortunately, there is no cure yet. Symptoms can be managed, however. Treatment options include compression garments, pneumatic compression devices (also known as pumps), manual lymph drainage massages (MLD), and decongestive exercises; there are also surgical treatments to help alleviate symptoms.

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