Lymphedema is an accumulation of swelling that can take place in the arms, legs, head, neck, torso, breasts or genitals caused by inefficiency in the lymphatic system. Lymphedema can result from the treatment of breast cancer, especially when the lymph nodes and lymphatic structures are removed or damaged.
The lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels act as filters for our bodies trapping foreign substances and excess fluids and then eliminating them. With an inefficient lymphatic system there is an increased risk of swelling and/or infection in the effected area.
Certified lymphedema specialists, including physical and occupational therapists, can help by evaluating the area, identifying treatment goals, and providing individual treatment aimed at meeting these goals.
Treatment for lymphedema may include the following:
- Manual lymphatic drainage
- Compression bandaging
- Exercise instruction to assist with fluid reduction
- Skin and nail care
- Instructions in self-care
If you are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms you may be in the early stages of lymphedema:
- Heavy/achy sensation in extremity
- Visible Edema
- Rings, watches and clothes are feeling tight
If you feel you may have lymphedema please contact your physician who can refer you to a certified lymphedema therapist (CLT) in your area. St. John Health System is proud to have certified lymphedema therapists that work collaboratively with our breast care program.
A certified lymphedema therapist undergoes intense training called Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT), in which they are educated on appropriate massage and bandaging techniques for edema reduction (please see list below for certified therapists). A certified lymphedema therapist can advise you on lymphedema prevention and provide safe and effective treatment where prevention is not possible.
Surgical improvement for lymphedema may also be available. Treatment consists of placing new lymph nodes in the area that is not functioning well. Once in the new location, the lymph nodes help drain the lymphatic fluid that is accumulating. This may reduce the total amount of lymphedema a person may experience. Contact Dr. Rebecca Studinger to learn more.
Ways to prevent lymphedema:
Avoid temperature extremes
- Hot showers
- Hot or cold climates
Avoid blunt trauma
- Have blood pressure taken on uninvolved arm
- Tight clothing - bra straps, rings, watches, bracelets
- Lifting Heavy objects
Avoid infection from
- Insect bites
- Manicures, pedicures
- Vaccinations or injections
- Pet scratches
- Skin punctures and cuts
- Avoid obesity
- Meticulous skin care and cleanliness
- Excellent nutrition-low salt
- Treat infections vigorously
- Travel with limb elevated
- Avoid high-heeled shoes
- SEEK TREATMENT FOR EVEN THE SLIGHTEST LYMPHEDEMA
Click here for a list of St. John Health System locations that provide lymphedema services.