Lymphedema is an abnormal accumulation of water and proteins in the body’s tissue space. Accumulation of lymphatic fluid can occur in the body compartment such as the arm, leg or trunk.
Primary Lymphedema results from a congenital abnormality in the lymphatic system (often not present until later in life). Secondary Lymphedema results from lymphatic system injury, such as surgery, trauma, radiation, cancer, infection or scarring. Both types can interfere with the flow of lymph fluid.
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The symptoms of Lymphedema may vary, but often include:
- Swelling of the hand, arm, chest/breast, foot/leg, pelvis, groin, abdomen, face or neck
- A feeling of heaviness or discomfort in the affected areas, loss of mobility and tightness
- Repeated infections in a limb
- Thickened skin
- In severe cases, lymph fluid leaking through the skin
If left untreated, these symptoms can worsen over time and cause unnecessary discomfort and complications.
Although there is no known cure for Lymphedema, it can be managed. The goal of treatment is to reduce the swelling and facilitate the flow of lymph fluid.
Complete decongestive therapy is a non-invasive form of treatment that yields an optimal result in volume reduction of limbs and control of Lymphedema. It is provided through the following techniques:
- Daily/weekly visits for evaluation, treatment and measurements by therapists
- Manual Lymph Draining (MLD)
- Multi-layer bandaging with short stretch compressive bandages
- Lymphedema exercises including individualized stretch and strength programs
- Vaso-pneumatic pumps
- Compression garments
- Skin care and self care
- Follow-up care including patient education
Participating in the Lymphedema Program
To participate in Lutheran Hospital’s Lymphedema Program, patients need a physician’s referral for occupational or physical therapy with a diagnosis of Lymphedema. Patients should also contact their medical insurance company for information pertaining to Lymphedema coverage and outpatient therapy services.