Obesity is a major risk factor for many serious medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and cancer. In fact, it is believed that obesity drives about 85 percent of the total cost of treating type 2 diabetes and 45 percent of the cost of treating high blood pressure. Studies estimate the effects of obesity are similar on chronic conditions to 20 years of aging.
A new study found that obesity may be a risk factor for yet another painful condition–leg lymphedema. When there is an obstruction to the lymphatic system – like a clot obstructing the lymph vessel – then lymph fluid remains in the skin and painful swelling develops. Leg lymphedema refers to the accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the leg, and can impair peoples’ lives from both a physical and psychological standpoint, since it can be uncomfortable to move around or leave the house and interact with people. In the study, the average BMI of the patients with lymphedema was 70. The study authors concluded that obesity seems to be a risk factor for lymphedema when BMI is greater than 60, and they presented their findings in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Lymphedema specialist, Cathy Kleinman-Barnett, of the Lymphedema/Edema Management Program at Northwest Medical Center explained that lymphedema in the legs manifests itself as:
- tightness in the skin
- decreased flexibility
- difficulty walking.
She added that, “Obesity causes lymphedema because the sheer additional weight puts too much pressure on the lymph nodes in the groin area, compromising the system. This causes a fluid backup like a clogged drain. Skin can thicken, harden and become red, dry and warm to touch.”
Lymphedema is treatable through drainage, compression and exercise. Weight loss has been shown to improve many medical conditions for obese individuals. Bariatric surgery is not simply about “losing weight”, but also about improving the health and comfort of patients who have been suffering with chronic conditions related to obesity.