Lymphedema is caused when the ability of the lymphatic system, which transports lymph fluid, is compromised. This is usually due to damage from trauma or surgery. The protein-rich lymph fluid accumulates in the tissue space interfering with normal cell function, causing enlargement in a limb or abdominal area. As Lymphedema progresses, swelling in a limb may slowly occur in the armpit, shoulder, groin, or leg. The swelling may occur one day and not the next. This early stage of Lymphedema is often not diagnosed by a Physician. Lymphedema can develop anywhere-chest, back, face. Lymphedema can occur in any area that has had radiation therapy, chemotherapy, accidental trauma, chronic venous insufficiency, or if lymph nodes have been surgically removed. As the condition progresses, there may be a feeling of discomfort or pain, a feeling of heaviness. The skin may develop redness, feel tight or warmer. Once the Lymph system is damaged, Lymphedema can occur at any time. The onset may be rapid or appear years after the event. Symptoms may last for life. There is no way to predict who will get Lymphedema. Treatment should begin as soon as possible. The length of treatment depends on the severity, duration of the swelling and how well the patient responds to therapy.
The earlier Lymphatic Therapy is started the better the results. Lymphedema Therapy is also called Complex Decongestive Therapy, which includes Lymph Drainage Therapy, compression bandaging and/or compression stockings or sleeves, skincare, patient education, self-care and exercises. I provide my patients with knowledge and skills to help transform and maintain the reduction of the swelling.
With Lymphedema, Lymph Drainage Therapy alone is not enough to achieve a long-term reduction of the edema. Special short stretch/non-elastic bandages are necessary. These bandages will not constrict the limb and are safe to wear long term. Bandaging and or compression garments are necessary to prevent the lymph fluid from re-accumulating in the tissue spaces. Using Lymph Drainage Therapy with decongestive compression therapy will help with the maintenance of Lymphedema.
With proper therapy, treatment and care, this chronic condition can be managed. The goal is to reduce swelling and increase lymph flow to other areas of the body that are healthy and unaffected.