Anyone with lymphedema faces special health challenges and must take extra care in managing their conditions to minimize complications.
When both diabetes and lymphedema are present, the tissues of the body face a double threat.
Patients with lymphedema have build-up of lymphatic fluid into the tissue causing swelling, connective tissue damage, and increased risk of infection. While diabetes generally causes damage to the arteries and capillaries, lymphedema is the result of damage to the lymphatic system.
Together, these diseases result in damage to both the arterial and lymphatic systems and both lead to damage to the subcutaneous tissue, connective tissue and skin.
The result is increased swelling, decreased levels of oxygen in the skin and connective tissue, and susceptibility to infection.
Lymphedema and Diabetes | Treatment Options
Effective treatment of the tissue swelling requires manual lymphatic drainage and compression without obstructing the lymphatic and venous outflow.
- Take care of your skin. Moisturize the skin before bandaging with a lotion such as EpiCeram. The goal is to minimize itching and reduce the risk of infection.
- Manual lymph drainage and self-massage may need to be performed with great care since skin can become very thin, fragile, or dry because of diabetes.
- Bandaging and the use of compression garmentsare effective but need to be modified to avoid skin irritation. Ointment or powder may be used if there is itching associated with dry skin related to diabetes.
Lymphedema and Diabetes | Managing Blood Glucose Levels
It will be increasingly important to manage your glucose levels closely. To minimize the risk of infection, clean the area before and after obtaining a blood sample.
You should avoid checking your glucose levels on limbs that are affected by, or at risk of lymphedema.
If you are a diabetic who requires insulin it should be injected into the layer of fat located just under the skin of the abdomen, arms, thighs, hip, or buttocks.
Injections should never be made into lymphedema-affected tissues, and the patient should ask their physician to recommend safe injection sites.
An insulin pump can be used to provide insulin, or a continuous glucose monitor may be used to measure blood sugar levels.
Since each of these devices require a placing a thin tube under the skin, it is important to avoid infection or skin irritation.
Lymphedema and Diabetes | Contact Your Physician
If you have diabetes and you’re experiencing swelling in one or more extremities contact your doctor as soon as possible. While there is no cure for lymphedema there are treatment options. However, early diagnosis is crucial.