What is the most severe form of lymphedema?

Elephantiasis is the most severe form of lymphedema. It is caused by an obstruction in the lymphatic system and results in a congestion of lymph fluid.

In elephantiasis, the affected body parts – usually arms or legs – become extremely large. The skin is sometimes severely hardened and the patient’s mobility can be severely restricted.

Stage 3 lymphedema is also commonly referred to as elephantiasis.

What causes elephantiasis

What causes elephantiasis?

Elephantiasis has nothing to do with being overweight as it is caused by lymph congestion. If a disease of the lymphatic vessel system occurs, the removal of the lymph fluid is no longer sufficiently guaranteed. The lymph vessel system disorder can be congenital (primary lymphedema) or acquired (secondary lymphedema).

If lymphedema is not treated at all or insufficiently treated, the lymphedema causes massive swelling of the affected body regions, usually the arms or legs, over time. Blood proteins that remain in the tissue cause massive tissue proliferation. These can harden and cornification of the skin can occur. Vesicles filled with lymph fluid often form on the skin surface.

What is Lymphatic filariasis?

The most common cause of lymphedema worldwide is a parasitic infection, where the parasite lodges itself in the lymphatic system, obstructing lymphatic vessels and disrupting the lymphatic flow.

This is a neglected tropical disease where infection occurs when filarial parasites are transmitted to humans through mosquitoes. When lymphatic filariasis develops into chronic conditions, it leads to lymphedema (tissue swelling) or progresses to a worse stage of elephantiasis (skin tissue/thickening of limbs).

The global baseline estimate of people affected by lymphatic filariasis is over 15 million people living with lymphedema. 

How do you treat elephantiasis?

Consistent therapy is important right from the start of diagnosis. The individual therapy components, their frequency, and intensity are all agreed upon in consultation with a doctor and therapist.

Along with manual lymph drainage and a proper skincare regiment, compression therapy is crucial.

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