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Lymphedema Management

What Is Lymphedema and How Is It Treated?

Lymphedema is an abnormal collection of high-protein fluid just beneath the skin. This swelling, or edema, occurs most commonly in the arm or leg, but it also may occur in other parts of the body including the breast or trunk, head and neck, or genitals. Lymphedema usually develops when lymph vessels are damaged or lymph nodes are removed (secondary lymphedema) but can also be present when lymphatic vessels are missing or impaired due to a hereditary condition (primary lymphedema). Breast cancer treatment is the most common cause of lymphedema in the U.S.

Lymphedema is essentially irreversible. Some clinicians will inform patients with lymphedema that they “need to learn to live with it” and that treatment is unavailable. Although lymphedema remains incurable, treatment is possible and can significantly improve symptoms and quality of life.

A number of key issues need to be addressed for each patient: reduction in limb swelling, prevention of skin changes and prevention of infection and treatment of specific problems. Treatment should be considered as twofold: an initial intensive treatment phase aiming for limb-volume reduction, often combining external compression, exercise and massage therapies; followed by the long-term maintenance phase of utilizing compression hosiery to sustain a manageable limb volume.

normal arm versus Lymphedema arm normal leg versus leg with Lymphedema

Our lymphedema therapist will perform a thorough evaluation and implement an individualized treatment plan for acute and long-term care. The treatment for lymphedema is Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) performed by our specially trained therapist. This is a safe, reliable, and non-invasive treatment to reduce the swelling and to maintain the reduction. Components of CDT include: Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD), Compression Bandaging, Skincare/Hygiene, Therapeutic Exercises, and Patient Education. After the acute phase, the patient will be fitted for a compression garment as part of their long-term self-management phase.

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