"Obesity causes lymphedema because the sheer additional weight puts too much pressure on the lymph nodes in the groin area, compromising the system," she said. "This causes a fluid backup like a clogged drain. Skin can thicken, harden and become red, dry and warm to touch."
It's important to treat the condition, she added, because "it can really interfere with a person's quality of life in a physical and a psychosocial way as people may be less inclined to go out and interact with others."
Kleinman-Barnett said lymphedema therapists can prescribe a program of manual lymphatic drainage, which helps direct lymph flow out of the congested areas. Recommendations on skin care, compression bandaging and exercises also can help, she said.
More than 35 percent of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity already is known to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and certain types of cancer.
Get tips for preventing lymphedema at the National Lymphedema Network.
SOURCES: Cathy Kleinman-Barnett, lymphedema specialist, Lymphedema/Edema Management Program, Northwest Medical Center, Margate, Fla.; Arin Greene, M.D., Children's Hospital, Boston; May 31, 2012, New England Journal of Medicine
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