diabetes and lymphedema, the legs of a woman with diabetes in which one leg is swollen with lymphatic fluid

Diabetes and Lymphedema

If you are living with diabetes, it is important to be aware of the risk of developing lymphedema. Lymphedema is a condition that causes swelling in the arms or legs. It can be very uncomfortable and even painful. If you have diabetes, it is important to take steps to prevent lymphedema from developing.

In this article, we will discuss the relationship between diabetes and lymphedema, and we will offer advice on how to manage lymphedema if you do develop it.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar levels. When your body cannot utilize glucose (sugar) from the food you eat, it can lead to dangerously high blood sugar levels. High blood glucose can damage nerves and other tissues over time, leading to complications such as nerve damage, heart disease, and stroke. Diabetes may also increase your risk of developing lymphedema.

What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a chronic condition characterized by swelling in the arms or legs. It occurs when excess fluid collects in the tissues of the extremities due to a blockage in the lymphatic system. This blockage can be caused by trauma, surgery, or infection and is often seen in people with diabetes due to damage to their nerves and blood vessels. Lymphedema can cause pain, discomfort, skin breakdown, and infections.

If left untreated, lymphedema can become disabling. The skin becomes susceptible to deep, poorly healing wounds like venous leg ulcers, and is in danger of infection. In extreme cases, it can lead to amputation if not managed properly.

How is Diabetes Related to Lymphedema?

There are several ways in which diabetes may increase your risk of lymphedema. High blood sugar levels can cause damage to the lymphatic vessels, leading to swelling in the extremities. Diabetes can also cause damage to the nerves of your body, including those in your arms and legs. Damage to these nerves can lead to a decrease in sensation, which can make it more difficult for you to detect any changes in swelling or pressure in your limbs. Finally, diabetes may increase your risk of infection, which can further exacerbate the swelling caused by lymphedema.

How Can I Manage Lymphedema and Diabetes?

If you have diabetes and lymphedema, it is important to take steps to manage both conditions. Here are some tips for managing lymphedema:

  1. Wear compression products like the Aero-Wrap™ to help prevent swelling and improve circulation.
  2. Avoid tight clothing that could cause friction or pressure on the affected area.
  3. Manage your diabetes by monitoring your blood glucose levels, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and taking medications as prescribed by your doctor.
  4. See your healthcare team regularly for check-ups to monitor the progression of either condition.
  5. Elevate the affected area when possible to reduce swelling and discomfort.
  6. Keep the skin moisturized and consider using natural remedies to soothe any pain or discomfort.

By taking steps to manage both diabetes and lymphedema, you can minimize the risk of complications from either condition. It is important to speak with your healthcare team if you are living with diabetes and lymphedema so that they can help develop a treatment plan tailored to your individual needs. With the right care, you can manage both conditions and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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