Lymphoedema is a relatively common but often misunderstood condition in Australia. It is characterised by the accumulation of protein-rich fluid in body tissues, that results in swelling, predominantly in the limbs, but can also affect other body regions. Let's look into lymphoedema, exploring its prevalence, diagnosis, and management in Australia.
What is Lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema occurs when the lymphatic system, responsible for draining excess fluids and maintaining immune function, becomes overwhelmed; this happens due to congenital malformations (primary lymphoedema) or damage to lymphatic vessels or nodes (secondary lymphoedema), often as a result of cancer treatment or other surgeries.
Lymphoedema is a chronic condition that requires lifelong care. Left untreated, it can lead to pain, decreased mobility, and even psychological distress. Understanding the condition's prevalence and seeking early diagnosis and management is essential.
Prevalence of Lymphoedema in Australia
Currently, there is no precise estimate of the number of people living with lymphoedema in Australia. However, some data sources offer insights:
- Hospitalisation Data: In 2020–21, there were around 9,400 hospitalisations for lymphoedema, with a higher rate among females.
- Cancer-Related Lymphoedema: Cancer treatment can lead to secondary lymphoedema. Based on projected new cancer cases for 2022, approximately 4,100 breast cancer patients and 1,600 to 5,100 melanoma patients may develop secondary lymphoedema.
- Compression Garment Subsidy Schemes: In 2020, about 2,500 people accessed state and territory subsidy schemes for compression garments.
Early diagnosis is crucial for effective management. Signs of lymphoedema can include intermittent swelling, recurrent cellulitis, aching, heaviness, stiffness, and decreased range of motion.
Special tests measuring limb volume, bioimpedance spectroscopy, and imaging can also confirm the diagnosis.
However, misdiagnosis or a lack of awareness among healthcare providers remains challenging. Therefore, increasing awareness and understanding of lymphoedema's presentation is essential.
Lymphoedema management is multidisciplinary and includes the following components:
- Compression Therapy: Graduated compression through bandages or garments helps reduce and contain swelling.
- Skin Care: Preventing infections and maintaining skin health is crucial.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity can reduce symptoms and severity.
- Massage Therapy: Manual lymphatic drainage can help move fluid towards functioning lymph nodes.
- Surgical Options: Treatments can include liposuction or lymphatic venous anastomosis for severe cases.
Compression Garment Subsidy Scheme The Australian Government introduced a scheme in 2020 to improve access to compression garments for lymphoedema patients.
It complements existing state and territory schemes, aiming to increase accessibility to compression garments.
Which compression stocking is right for me?
Australia and Lymphoedema
Lymphoedema is a chronic condition that affects many Australians. While efforts are ongoing to understand its prevalence, early diagnosis and multidisciplinary management are crucial for improving patients' quality of life. Raising awareness among healthcare professionals and the public is essential to ensure those with lymphoedema receive the care and support they need.
Sources (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare)