Risk factors for the development of oedema and lymphoedema
An important symptom of ill health in clinical medicine is the development of oedema, which represents an imbalance in the amount of fluid entering and leaving the tissues of the body. Although medical treatment for the underlying cause of oedema is required, in both cancer and non-cancer settings risk factors that may increase or decrease the potential for oedema to develop or worsen can be identified. For the patient who has risk factors for the development of oedema, advice and education can enable the risk to be modified. Reducing the risk of oedema formation will help avoid long-term problematic oedema and complex skin conditions, as well as maintaining the patient's quality of life. This article discusses some of the risk factors for oedema and lymphoedema and concludes with an outline of how the risk can be managed.
The development of oedema can be distressing for patients and affect their quality of life. The most frequent presentation of chronic oedema is in the lower limbs, which results in problems with mobility, clothing and footwear. If oedema of any kind remains untreated, stasis of fluid in the tissues of the body will place the patient at risk of complex skin conditions and cellulitis (Cox, 2006).
The causes of oedema can be cancer or non-cancer-related: these are illustrated in Table 1.
The appearance of oedema is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. The cause is therefore associated with the patient's medical diagnosis or, in the case of cancer-related lymphoedema, treatment that has already been completed to lymph node areas. The risk of oedema developing is usually a matter of chance and is not a certainty, but there are identifiable factors that can help reduce the risk of it developing. It may be possible to modify these factors, leading to a better outcome for the patient.
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