What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is the swelling usually of an arm or leg caused by increased fluid, proteins, and cellular waste in the tissues under the skin. It occurs when there is a problem in the lymphatic system:
- Lymphatic dysfunction can be present from birth or develop over time.
- Damage to lymph vessels can occur due to trauma, surgery, or infection.
- Removal or destruction of lymph nodes, usually during the treatment of cancer.
What causes lymphedema?
There are two general types of lymphedema:
Primary Lymphedema usually appears without obvious cause or after a minor trauma or infection. It can happen at any age, but is due to a congenital abnormality. This condition may be hereditary.
Secondary Lymphedema is an acquired condition resulting from the loss of previously normal lymph pathways. It often occurs after a surgical procedure where lymph nodes or lymph vessels have been removed or damaged. Surgery and/or radiation for cancer treatment is one of the most common causes. People who have had treatment for breast cancer, melanomas, prostate cancer, ovarian, cervical, or lymphomas are all at risk, although the swelling may not appear until months or even years later.
Treatment for Lymphedema
Lymphedema is not curable, but it is controllable. Treatment can be very effective and greatly improve quality of life, even for people who have had lymphedema for many years.
The best and most effective treatment for lymphedema is Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) which has four major components:
- Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a gentle massage-like technique. It helps to move the excess fluid to areas where the lymph system is functioning.
- Compression bandaging and garments are an essential component of lymphedema management. Keeping the limb wrapped in a multi-layer low-stretch bandage during treatment can decrease the excess fluid and help to soften the tissues. After treatment, a prescription compression stocking or sleeve can help maintain results
- Exercise prescribed by your therapist to assist in flow of lymph fluid.
- Good skin and nail care is critical to maintain healthy skin. Using low pH soaps and lotions can help protect against bacterial infections which can lead to cellulites.
Outpatient Lymphedema Treatment Program
Helping you relieve swelling in 4 simple steps:
Step 1: Evaluation by a Lymphedema Therapist
Step 2: Therapist will educate you and your family about your condition and will recommend a course of treatment for you in consultation with your doctor.
Step 3: Therapy will be scheduled based on your goals and individual circumstances generally 2-3 times per week for 4-6 weeks.
Step 4: Completion of therapy with guidance for self-management and necessary compression garments for maintenance.
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