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Lymph System

Prevention: Upper Extremities

Prevention: Lower Extremities

Before treatment   After treatment

What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a swelling of a body part, most often an extremity, resulting from an accumulation of fluids, in such proportions to be palpable and visible. It occurs when the lymph vascular system is not able to fill its function of reabsorption and transport of the protein and lymph load. Lymphedema occurs whenever lymphatic vessels are absent, underdeveloped, obstructed, or damaged.

How does Lymphedema occur?
A stagnation of protein develops in the tissue. There are more protein rich fluids in the tissue than can be transported and the proteins attract water by osmosis. The affected area becomes swollen, enlarged and uncomfortable. The swelling decreases oxygenation of of the tissues, interferes with their normal functioning and makes them heal more slowly than normal. The excess protein also serves as a stimulus for chronic infection and can result in formation of excess fibrous tissue.

What Does Lymphedema Feel Like?
You may have no unusual sensations and notice the limb looks larger than the other. You may have a feeling of tightness and heaviness or "pins and needles" in the limb. Your shoulder may ache with arm lymphedema. There could be shooting pains or pain in the joints similar to arthritis and your shoulder(s) may ache with arm lymphedema. With leg lymphedema you may have aching buttocks or have tenderness in the groin of the affected leg. In addition there may be leaking of lymph fluid from the skin. If you have any questions or concerns, please call Tammy at HOPE or make an appointment for a consultation.

What is the treatment of Lymphedema?
Lymphedema indicates that the lymph system is unable to handle the lymph load. Treatment should begin as soon as lymphedema is diagnosed. The goal of treatment is to reduce the swelling and facilitate the flow of lymph fluid. The most effective approach used is called Combined or Complex Decongestive Therapy. Which is a 4 step process carried out over a 4 week period. This includes:
• Manual Lymph Drainage: (MLD) Once or twice a day to remove excess fluid and protein. Opens lymphatics in the unaffected areas so these can help drain the affected areas.
• Compression Therapy: Bandaging of the affected limb after MLD session.
• Remedial Exercises & Breathing Techniques: Further promotes venous and lymphatic flow by activating the muscle and joint pumps.
• Skin Care and Hygiene: Skin cleansing with antibacterial washes will help eliminate bacterial and fungal growth and so minimize the possibility of cellulitis and lymphangitis.

What factors contribute to Lymphedema?
Factors that have affected or traumatized the lymph system include, combined surgery and radiation therapy; post operative infection, obesity, cellulitis, infections such as insect bites or athletes foot; sedentary life-style; constrictive clothing or jewelry; heavy breast prosthesis; recurrent tumors.

What are some general precautions to take?
If you have been diagnosed with Lymphedema and even if you haven't, it's important to: Maintain your optimum weight by eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid table salt and fatty foods. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. Breath deeply and exercise regularly, like walking or swimming. The lymph system does not have it's own pump like the heart, so walking or bouncing on a mini trampoline help "pump" the lymph system.

Steps to prevention
Read more about the 18 Steps to Prevention of Lymphedema of the upper and lower extremities. Click here

What about insurance?
The 1998 federal budget passed by Congress requires that health plans cover reconstructive surgery after mastectomy. Covers: Reconstruction of breast that underwent surgery, surgery and reconstruction of the other breast to make them look symmetrical, protheses, treatment of physical complications in all stages of mastectomy, including lymphedema. Call your insurance provider for more information.

© 2012 HOPE Lymphedema Center, PLLC
Information on this site is for educational purposes and is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness.