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New EmilyWhat is Lymphedema?

By Emily Haynes, DPT

Have you been experiencing unexplained chronic swelling in your arm(s), leg(s), chest, head, neck or genitals? Have you recently had breast cancer and lymph nodes removed from your armpit? If so, you may have the symptoms of a condition known as lymphedema.

What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema is an abnormal accumulation of protein-rich fluid underneath the skin. Proteins are hydrophilic and pull fluid out of our bloodstream into the extracellular space within the body causing an increase in swelling.

Who is at risk for developing lymphedema?
Lymphedema is classified into two categories: Primary and Secondary Lymphedema. Primary lymphedema is hereditary and mostly affects the lower extremities. Secondary lymphedema is the result of a traumatic event, surgery, infection and/or obesity and can occur in the upper or lower extremities, genitals, head or neck. According to the Lymphatic Education and Research Network, women who have had breast cancer-related surgery resulting in 4 or more lymph nodes being removed, have a 15-25% risk of developing lymphedema.

How is lymphedema treated?
Complete decongestive therapy (CDT), is the gold standard for treatment of lymphedema. CDT consists of manual lymphatic drainage (massage technique), bandaging, fitting for compression garments, exercise, and proper hygiene. In 2007, a study published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology revealed that the combination of complete decongestive therapy, manual lymphatic drainage and exercise will all contribute to the most significant decrease in swelling associated with lymphedema. 

Call 866-412-5554 to schedule an appointment with a lymphedema specialist.