Lymphedema is an abnormal swelling of the arm(s), leg(s), or trunk due to chronic fluid retention. It is commonly caused by chronic vein disease, heredity, or removal of lymph nodes and radiation to treat certain types of cancer. Lymphedema generally worsens over time if left untreated. It is a serious condition with long-term physical and emotional consequences. Cosmetic deformities are difficult to hide, and complications such as severe infection and ulcers of the skin are common.
Symptoms of Lymphedema
In the early stages, Lymphedema may show no symptoms, or it may present as a heavy, full, or uncomfortable sensation in the affected areas. Other symptoms may include:
- Skin changes
- Tight, heavy, or full feeling of the skin
- Fluid drainage or "weeping" from the skin
- Reduced range of motion
- Decreased mobility
- Difficulty with comfortably fitting into clothing or shoes
- Tightness of a ring, watch, or bracelet
Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT)
Outpatient Services are available for patients with Lymphedema, chronic venous insufficiency (vein disease), and associated wounds. Although there is no cure for Lymphedema, it can be effectively managed through a process known as Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT).
Phase One of CDT includes:
- Measurement of limb volumes
- Manual lymph drainage (MLD)
- Compression bandaging
- Skin care and wound care
- Therapeutic exercise
- Compression garment recommendations
- Patient and family education
Patients attend the intensive phase of treatment on a daily basis. The goals of CDT during the intensive phase are to decrease swelling as quickly as possible, improve skin condition, reduce pain, improve daily function, and fit with compression garments. Intensive therapy is followed by Phase Two of CDT, an individualized program that patients perform at home to continue improvement of their Lymphedema beyond formal therapy.
Early detection and treatment are critical to prevent and control Lymphedema. Even at advanced stages of the condition, treatment can help to reduce the severity of the Lymphedema and the risk for complications.