What is Lymphedema?
It is estimated that over 250 million people world-wide suffer from the effects of lymphedema. In the U.S. most lymphedema cases are a result of damage to the lymphatic system from surgery to treat cancer, or injury. Breast cancer treatment is a common cause of lymphedema, as lymph nodes are removed or damaged post surgery, and/or during radiation.
Lymphedema is an accumulation of protein-rich “lymphatic fluid” in the superficial tissues caused by damage to the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is responsible for draining lymphatic fluid found outside cells. The fluid is composed primarily of white blood cells, salts, glucose, urea and protein molecules. Organs and tissues associated within the Lymphatic system include tonsils, spleen, thymus, bone marrow and lymph nodes.
How do I get lymphedema treated or cured?
Currently, there is no cure for lymphedema. Techniques for treating the condition exist and are effective to a large degree in decreasing the overall size of the affected limb. However, the condition will never go away.
Treating and Managing Lymphedema
Lymphedema can be effectively treated. Treatments include complete decongestive therapy (CDT), manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), compression bandages and garments, pneumatic pumps, and exercise routines.
Complete Decongestive Therapy
CDT is a combination of treatment techniques with four components in two phases: manual lymph drainage, compression bandaging, exercise, skin and nail care. The specific sequence varies by patient and requires skilled evaluation by a trained and certified therapist.
Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) is a specialized skin technique that is used to move fluid away from swollen areas toward areas with a healthy lymphatic system. MLD is NOT massage. A deep tissue massage using excessive pressure can further damage lymphedema affected lymph vessels and tissues.
Compression Bandages are applied to the effected limb after MLD. The bandages are applied in a specific technique to decongest the limb through pressure, pushing fluid through the system. Compression bandages are specialized short-stretch, non-elastic bandages designed to be worn for extended periods. They are NOT Ace Bandages.
Exercise helps move fluid from under bandaged areas and through the system. Specific programs can be recommended by your therapist.
Skin and nail care are important to reduce the risk of infection with Lymphedema. Application of cleansers and lotions, avoidance of cuts, scratches and bites can help prevent infection and further swelling.
It is normal to feel angry or frustrated suffering with lymphedema.
Support groups can be helpful.
The following is a list of support groups you can contact:
Lymphedema Education and Research Network
List of local support groups
- Lymphedema Guru
- Lymphedema Blog site by Joe Zuther, founder of the Academy of Lymphatic studies
Don’t hesitate to speak with your Lymphedema Therapist if you are feeling anxious or frustrated.
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Lake Mary, Florida 32746
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