- What is Lymphedema?
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 and trunk, abdomen, head and neck, or genitals. Lymphedema usually develops when lymph vessels are damaged or lymph nodes are removed, but can also be present when lymphatic vessels are missing or impaired due to a hereditary condition.
- What are the signs and symptoms of lymphedema?
Signs or symptoms of lymphedema include a full or heavy sensation in the limb(s), tightness of the skin or tissue, decreased flexibility in the hand, wrist, foot, or ankle, difficulty fitting into clothing in one specific area, or tightness of rings, wristwatches, or bracelets. If you notice swelling in an area, call your physician, even if the edema goes away; you could be experiencing an early sign of lymphedema. Early treatment minimizes the symptoms and can improve the outcome.
- What are the risk factors for lymphedema?
Specific cancer-related surgeries such as surgical resection of melanoma, breast, gynecological, head and neck, prostate or testicular, bladder, or colon cancer can require the removal of lymph nodes. These surgeries put patients at risk of developing secondary lymphedema. Other non-cancer related surgeries or trauma can also disrupt lymphatic pathways, resulting in lymphatic impairment and leading to the eventual onset of lymphedema. Congenital defects remain a major cause of lymphedema in the United States as well. Most typically you would have noted onset of edema in the limbs during infancy through teen years.
Other Risk Factors:
- Radiation After Cancer Surgery
- Family History of Swollen Limbs
- Untreated Wounds
- How can I reduce my risks for developing lymphedema?
It is not clearly known why some people with the same risk factors develop lymphedema and others do not. There is lack of scientific evidence regarding how to reduce the risk of developing lymphedema or how to minimize flares of lymphedema. What works for one person, may not work for another. You should meet with our certified lymphedema therapist to discuss your personal strategies for risk reduction.
- Protect exposed skin with sunscreen and insect repellant.
- Avoid punctures such as injections and blood draws.
- Maintain optimal weight.
- Avoid tight jewelry or having blood pressure taken on affected limb.
- Maintain appropriate compression garments and have them changed regularly.
- What is the treatment for lymphedema?
Complete decongestive therapy (CDT) is the standard of care for the treatment of lymphedema. The components of this treatment consist of:
- Remedial Exercise
- Compression Garments (sleeves, stockings) and Self-care Training
Many professionals may claim to be capable of providing treatment for lymphedema but unfortunately many therapists lack the expertise and knowledge to effectively resolve and control your lymphedema. Only certified lymphedema therapists through the national lymphology association of North America (CLT-LANA) have the proven educational background and documented experience to provide the services you need.
Cure Physical Therapy has one of the few certified lymphedema therapists in California who can effectively care for your lymphedema.
Please see our Manual Lymph Drainage, Multi-layer Bandaging and Lymphedema Before and After Photos pages for more information.