There is increasing awareness that not only does chronic illness negatively impact mental health, but that conditions like depression negatively impact the effectiveness of treatment! Many thanks to Eric Ansart for reminding us about the impact of lymphedema on mental health in recognition of World Mental Health Day.
When we think of the challenges patients suffering from lymphedema face the list can be long. Lymphedema is a progressive chronic condition that if not treated early and correctly can be life-altering if not completely debilitating. Lymphatic conditions are also more serious and more prevalent than many of us think.
- Patients with lymphedema are 71 x more susceptible to infections such as cellulitis.
- Venous-related lymphedema known as Phlebo-lymphedema is a leading cause of venous leg ulcers (VLUs)
- Living with chronic swelling can limit mobility and lead to social isolation.
What is the most challenging aspect of this multifaceted disease?
Lymphedema is a disorder of the lymph system. Either due to a compromised lymph system or an overproduction of lymph fluid, patients with lymphatic disorders often deal with reoccurring infections, skin changes, and fibrosis that leads to chronic and progressive swelling.
Based on the 2004 revision to Starling’s principle we understand that the lymph system is responsible for returning 90-95% of interstitial fluid back into the circulatory system. When this system doesn’t work properly, you’d think the biggest complaint from patients suffering from lymphedema would be the discomfort related to the resultant chronic swelling. However, I was shocked to see an online poll that suggests something much different. More than 280 patients with lymphedema reported that their greatest complaint is actually mental fatigue. (See a screen capture of part of the online poll below.)
This shouldn’t really surprise us. A Cleveland Clinic report estimated that one-third of people diagnosed with a chronic illness or disease will experience symptoms of depression.
We can all appreciate that lymphedema is a complex condition and not all of the symptoms are visible. Mental health may be one of the biggest challenges facing patients with lymphedema. I’d like to increase the awareness of that issue on World Mental Health Day, October 10th.
If you are interested in learning more about the connection between lymphatic disorders and mental health, may I suggest an excellent article written by Dr. Karen Herbst in the October 2022 publication of Vein Magazine?