Tips & Tricks

Lymphorrhea: the leakage of lymph

Since I was around eighteen years old, I’ve experienced the occasional leaking of fluid from my right leg. I remember when it first happened, during a final exam in my senior year of high school. There was so much fluid that my shoe was completely soaked, and I sat through the rest of the exam embarrassed and silently freaking out, with no idea what was happening or why. It’s occurred probably a handful of times since then, but this past week it’s been happening more often than usual.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been baffled and a little freaked out by your leaking limbs and would like to know what the hell is going on. So, without further ado, here is my short-but-sweet guide to lymphorrhea.

What’s leaking out of my leg/arm/etc?

The light, amber-colored fluid that is beading and trickling from your skin is called lymph. The leaking or weeping of this protein-rich lymph is known as lymphorrhea.

What causes this to happen?

Insect bites, abrasions, cuts, wounds, or cracks in the skin can enable the lymph fluid to seep out. Whenever I’ve had it, it drains from an extremely small break in my skin about the size of a pore.

What complications can it cause?

There are two main complications that lymphorrhea can spell out for lymphies, one of which being infection. The lymph fluid is considered a natural food source for bacteria, meaning the wound becomes an entry point for the bacteria to enter your body and cause infections such as cellulitis, lymphangitis, or erysipelas. Lymphorrhea is also highly caustic to skin tissue, and when the drainage is left untreated, it could quickly become a large, gaping wound. When this happens, skin grafts are often required.

How do I avoid it?

The best thing you can do to avoid getting lymphorrhea is to take care of your skin. Keep it moisturized, as dry skin will lead to cracking and could cause the fluid to leak. Also, avoid cuts, bites, and scrapes if you can. Obviously it’s difficult to avoid these things to a T (unless you want to enclose your affected limb in a bubble!), but if you’re careful then your chances of contracting it will be lessened.

What do I do if I get it?

If you spring a leak, don’t worry – there are things you can do to treat it. First, you should clean the area where the fluid is leaking to reduce infection. Then, apply a moisturizing lotion to help heal the skin and protect it from further breakdown. Dress the wound with clean, absorbent, non-sticky bandages, and then wrap your limb with compression bandages to help stop the drainage. With this added pressure, the leaking should stop within one or two days. Don’t forget to change the bandages often, as they’ll become wet and uncomfortable from the lymph. When you’re at rest, elevate that sucker! Once the leakage has stopped and your skin is restored, you can don your usual garments again.

 

So there you have it – the basics of lymphorrhea and how to treat it. I hope you’re all doing well, and keeping good care of your body!
xxox alexa

13 thoughts on “Lymphorrhea: the leakage of lymph

  1. Hi Alexa! Thanks to the wonders of technology I now know what you look like. Listen, I spent some time this morning at Penn Therapy and Fitness, where Bryan Spinelli, Master Lymphedema Therapist (that’s my designation; what his actual title there is is anyone’s guess), gave me a crash course in the use of kinesio tape. I now have some on both feet and going up the sides of my left leg from ankle to shin. I only know it’s there because he and I put it there; I’m not aware of its presence otherwise. Tomorrow morning I have to take it off, and then whenever I have some time on Friday (at least 24 hours after I take the first stuff off), cut more and put it on. It’ll stay on in the shower, or so I’m told. Keeping Marius, my younger cat, away from it is going to be interesting. His official name is Marius Underfoot Intraomnia Pilvin, and he got his two middle names because he deserved them richly. He’s three, measures 36″ all stretched out from the tip of a forepaw to the tip of his long tail, is very loyal to his Mama (meets me at the door, latches on to my leg and thereby gets himself stepped on unless I happen to be looking down), has eating habits that indicate a species identity disorder (he thinks he’s a goat, a misconception I try hard to discourage), and has convinced me that he’s part dog. Now then…Bryan tells me there’s at least one lymphedema therapist at Johns Hopkins, and they have a physical medicine and rehab center (I may be off on the name) that I suspect is wonderful, since everything at Johns Hopkins is. I don’t know anyone in that particular field at JHU but I go to the annual mood disorders symposium there, and the psych department is one of the best. Hopkins Medicine is way up there in the rankings overall, and I’m sure that whoever they have in lymphedema therapy is an expert. Bryan thinks there might be someone there named Maureen, possibly MacBeth. I didn’t give him your name, in case you’re wondering; I just told him I knew of someone with lymphedema very much like mine who was in Baltimore.

    • Marius sounds wonderful – I find that the cats I like the most are the ones who hardly act like cats at all! I just got a new kitten (Piper) and she’s always getting underfoot, or climbing anything she can sink her tiny little claws into. She’s begun antagonizing our older cat, Annie, much to Annie’s chagrin.

      Hopkins is a great place. I was there for my eating disorder treatment last year, and they definitely know what they’re doing. I’ll have to look into their lymphedema therapist; I’ve been to one at GBMC (Greater Baltimore Medical Center), but that was years ago. I still haven’t gotten my new garments yet.. I really need to get the ball rolling, especially now that it’s spreading. Buhhh.

  2. Great advice from Barbara. You need to find a resource you can call on when you’re home (isn’t Baltimore your home when not in Vermont?) and Hopkins of course has a great reputation as you’ve seen. But don’t overlook smaller “boutique” clinics that specialize in Lymphedema. The best ones here in Denver are not a the big hospitals (although Lutheran I think has some great staff). National Lymphedema Network shows two affiliated centers with some impressive staff training at Lanham, MD and Rockville, MD. Maybe they’re nearby?
    Judging from your new clothing photos and the reduced swelling in your toes if I’m seeing that correctly maybe you have the “bakery swelling” under control? Myself, I’ve only had lymphorrhea once, last summer, but it was in the genitals. That scared me to death because not only did it look gross but my PT had warned me to be on the lookout for swelling “down there” and to deal with it immediately. Well, I was on a vacation in Montana and had to deal with it via email instructions. And even though one part of me looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, fortunately the seeping was confined to one spot “below there” that I was able to get under control quickly with the abdomen massage techniques and changing out of the new Medi garment.
    What I learned (in addition to all you’ve said about lymphorrhea) was that a sudden inflow of lymph fluid can sort of “shock” your system (my term) and it becomes overwhelmed. It swells more and, as you and I have discovered, sometimes has to find a new way out – a break in the skin.
    And the lymphorrhea I got last summer was caused by a similar surge of fluid into the groin that was brought about by a poor fit in my new Medi garment. It was much too tall and when I bent over during long days of construction work, helping a Missoula family build a straw bale house, the garment rolled down at the waist to form a tight band around my waist. The fluid coming up from the legs couldn’t get into my abdomen and instead went down. When I changed back to the prior Medi garment and took away that garment fold the swelling went away. Put the garment back on, it rolled down, trapped the fluid and lymphorrhea came back.
    So the second thing I learned was to always make a mental note of what’s changing in my garments, in my diet, in my exercise. Sometimes it might take a day or two for your lymphedema to respond to those changes, but if you can link the changed lymphedema to another change it’s much easier to understand and deal with.

    Oh, my, the things we have to deal with, huh?

    • Ugh, you’re right – we have to deal with some extremely trying things. I’m sorry you had lymphorrhea in your groin; that’s a personal fear of mine. At least you were able to pinpoint exactly what was causing it! And what a relief that it was just your garment, and not your internal plumbling (so to speak).

      “Sometimes it might take a day or two for your lymphedema to respond to those changes, but if you can link the changed lymphedema to another change it’s much easier to understand and deal with.” <– You couldn't have said this any better!! I think this rings so true for us lymphies. We have to be especially attuned to our bodies because our happen to shout a little louder when something's wrong. Kind of like a screaming baby. And we gotta make it so that that screaming baby is soothed before it starts to drive us crazy! In our case, the screaming baby is the swelling, that will continue to get worse until we treat it. I feel like this is a strange metaphor, but I hope it makes sense! Haha.

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  4. I have this problem, but it’s on my scalp at the back of my head. I’ve never heard of this before, but I stumbled upon the term after my head leaked non-stop for 3 days (and still going!) after I scratched it a bit too hard and broke the skin a little, and I was just wondering who deals with things like this? Since it’s on my head and not a limb, I have no idea how to go about patching it up. I wasn’t sure if I should go to my family doctor, an ER or find a specialist (if so, what would their title be?) Thanks for you help!

    • Hi, Kayla,

      I think your best bet would be to see a lymphedema therapist. My regular doctor didn’t know anything about lymphorrhea when it first happened to me and was baffled. I hope you can find someone in your area who can help you!! Best of luck.

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