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Saint Mary's Lymphedema Program
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is the accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the tissues resulting in swelling of a body part, most frequently the extremities. It may also occur in the face, neck, trunk or genitals. This protein-rich fluid causes chronic inflammation and reactive fibrosis of the tissues.
Classifications of Lymphedema
- Primary lymphedema is the result of an insufficient lymph system and can demonstrate itself at birth (congenital), during puberty (most common) or later in life. This most commonly affects the legs and occurs more often in women.
- Secondary lymphedema occurs when lymph vessels are damaged or lymph nodes are removed. This includes trauma, infectious episodes such as cellulitis, excision/surgery, radiation and malignant tumor blockage. Combination edemas include Phlebolymphostatic edema and combinations of lymphedema, lipedema and venous edema.
Symptoms of Lymphedema
- A sense of heaviness or ache in the area
- Swelling — skin is tight, pits in the early stage and becomes fibrotic (thick) in later stages
- Condition may worsen over time
- Difficulty fitting into clothing or jewelry
- Limitation of movement/function
- Lymph leakage
- Psychological issues associated with cosmetic changes
Key Facts About Lymphedema:
- Lymphedema is a form of swelling resulting from insufficiency, impairment or trauma to a part of the vascular system known as the lymphatics. This impairment is unavoidable with some cancer treatments. More than 5 million Americans are living with this progressive yet manageable condition.
- Lymphedema tends to gave a gradual onset and develops slowly, worsening over time. Symptoms may appear for a long time and then get better - this can be misleading, as if everything is okay when it's really not.
- Don't wait. The more time passes, the more likely lymph fluid will build up in the tissue, causing damaging changes in the appearance and function of the limb and the skin. Waiting for treatment is likely to take more time and energy than if you had sought help at the first signs of trouble.
- Generally, lymphedema is most likely to happen within 5 years after cancer treatment, although the risk never entirely goes away. Lymphedema occurs at the affected quadrant.
Saint Mary's Services
Saint Mary's physical therapist's has a team of certified lymphedema specialists who can assess and treat this condition and help you manage your symptoms.
Early Diagnosis and Treatment Improves Overall Prognosis and Condition
At Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center we are excited to assist you in learning about your condition, aid in the reduction of swelling and teach management skills. Ask your physician about a referral to their program. A variety of insurances are accepted. Some insurances may require prior authorization and their staff will assist you in this process.
Treatment of Lymphedema
Lymphedema can be a serious condition. It is typically life long. Effective management is available with Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT). Tailored combinations of compression, manual lymph drainage (massage), exercise, skin care as well as self management skills are addressed. Treatment is gentle and thorough. In the initial phase the therapist will work to reduce swelling and soften the skin tissue.
Long-term success requires commitment and ability to carry out a specific home program. You will be gradually taught these skills. Follow up in the clinic is encouraged for ongoing support and to assure proper technique and fit of garments.