Lymphedema, also known as lymphatic obstruction, is chronic swelling of a body part caused by a blockage of the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are vessels that drain fluid from tissues throughout the body and allow immune cells to travel where they are needed.
Lymphedema may be caused by surgery or radiation treatment affecting the lymph nodes for certain types of cancer, such as breast and testicular cancers. It can occur within weeks to many years after treatment. Its onset can be sudden or gradual. Lymphedema also can be the result of obesity, congenital abnormality or trauma.
Because its occurrence and severity can vary widely, lymphedema is an unpredictable condition. Once lymphedema has developed, it never goes away and must be carefully managed.
Once you have had lymphedema or had lymph nodes removed, it is important to remind health care practitioners to use the unaffected arm, for blood draws or pressure checks whenever possible. You may also want to wear a medical alert necklace or bracelet on the affected arm.
Treatment of Lymphedema is Important
If not treated, lymphedema can worsen over time. It usually can be brought under control through proper care and dedication to lifestyle changes.
If you think you may have lymphedema, you should see your doctor right away. If you don't have a physician, we can help you find one. Your doctor can refer you to a CHI Health lymphedema therapist for decongestive therapy.
Currently the most effective and least invasive treatment approach is decongestive therapy, which includes:
- Manual Lymphatic Drainage
- Bandaging and Compression
- Remedial Exercises
- Skin Hygiene
CHI Health has Licensed Lymphedema Therapists
CHI Health has occupational therapists who are certified and/or licensed lymphedema therapists at all five metro-area hospitals. They perform manual lymphatic drainage, which is which is a gentle type of massage used to drain excess fluid from the body. They also apply bandages and compression garments which create changes in tissue pressures that help the lymph to flow out of the affected area. Occupational therapists also teach exercise techniques which maximize the removal of excess fluid.
Self-care also is important for the successful treatment of lymphedema. Continued use of compression garments, exercise, good skin hygiene and nutrition all contribute to management of the condition.