What is Lymphedema Treatment?
The lymphatic system plays a key part in the body's immune system and its function
is to purge excess fluid (called 'lymph') from the inter-tissue spaces. The lymph
contains elements such as bacteria and other waste material and these are removed
when the lymph is filtered through one of the lymph nodes. Lymph vessels carry the
lymph fluid around the body and the liquid is pushed by contractions in the adjacent
If the lymph vessels become damaged, die or are removed (as can be the case with operations
like mastectomies), fluid can rapidly build up causing painful swelling (edema) in
the affected limbs. In severe cases the skin will stretch to the splitting point and
lymph fluid can then ooze out. This, in turn, can give rise to burning and permanent
Since the disease is incurable (technology does not exist to repair the lymph system),
the only effective treatment is to manually cause the trapped fluid to move away from
the blockage. Once this has been done, the lymph needs to be removed from the body
before endeavoring to ensure that the sufferer does all that they can to reduce the
frequency and severity of future blockages.
Lymphedema therapy accordingly consists of six key elements:
A physiotherapist will massage the muscles in the affected area in an attempt to force
the lymph fluid through the functioning part of the lymph system. Massage emulates
the normal muscular contractions which then provide the impetus behind a functional
lymphatic system. Typically massage will take place for up to an hour a day and the
masseuse (or physiotherapist) will knead the flesh in such a way as to stimulate lymphatic
flow away from the swelling.
Video - WindberCare: Relief from Lymphedema
(Not by this article's author.)
Patient testimonial from Star Durham, who found relief from from Lymphedema through the Personal Touch of the caring healers of the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center at Windber Medical Center - www.windbercare.com
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is an abnormal buildup of fluid, or swelling, often in the arms or legs. The condition develops when lymphatic vessels or lymph nodes are missing, impaired, damaged, or removed due to surgery, heredity, venous or arterial disease, traumatic injury, or cancer treatment. Although lymphedema is a chronic and progressive disease, it can usually be brought under control with proper care by a physician and qualified therapist.
How can the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center help me with my lymphedema?
We can achieve maximum results by using a safe, non-invasive treatment known as Complex Lymphatic Therapy (CLT). It works to return your limb to normal or near normal size. Lymphedema is then able to be controlled, with more improvement over time.
This is the primary treatment for lymphedema. The affected limbs are tightly wrapped
in special elasticized bandages for periods of typically 12 to 18 hours per day and
sometimes longer. Since the points at which pressure needs to be applied are very
specific, this has to be done by a specially-trained person. If the lymphedema is
in the lower limbs, movement can be extremely difficult and it is definitely uncomfortable
to have done. Often the physiotherapist will require moisturizer to be applied to
the edemas to help increase suppleness and to replace the oils lost through both the
illness and its subsequent treatment.
A daily dose of a normal diuretic helps flush the excess lymph fluid out of the body.
Unfortunately, at the beginning of treatment, this may mean the patient is effectively
'tied' to a bathroom and needing to urinate every fifteen to twenty minutes. Although
irritating, diuretics combined with massage and compressive bandaging can produce
rapid results although, in more severe cases, their efficacy will appear to reduce
Controlled and prescribed exercise will complement the massage by causing selected
muscles to pump the lymph fluid around the lymphatic system. A lack of exercise, often
caused by illness or an excess of weight may be the trigger mechanism for lymphedema.
It will certainly exacerbate a pre-existing lymphedema condition.
For anyone with lymphedema, an infection can occur anywhere at any time. Sufferers,
therefore, need to be aware that even the slightest cut or graze can result in a virulent
illness and rocketing temperatures (over 40C or 104F is commonplace). They should
wear gloves whenever working in the garden or handling dirty objects. Treat cuts immediately
and be especially conscious of insect bites which can quickly become infected.
Maintaining a healthy body is essential for lymphedema sufferers since the fever that
can rage so virulently needs to be met by a stout constitution. Moreover, an excess
of fat cells will both retain fluid and cause lymph to be trapped (by the weight of
the fat). Therefore eating sensibly, consuming only a modest amount of alcohol and
staying in trim are all key elements to the long-term battle against the illness.
Eating high-fibre foods and flushing the system through with plenty of water are also
productive and efficacious preventative measures. Following the 'five pieces of fruit
per day' rule is another positive action.
Treatment can either be carried out as an inpatient or as an outpatient attending
daily clinics. Although lymphedema itself is not normally life-threatening, the fever
which can start up as a result of an associated infection can easily kill. If such
an infection occurs, the patient must be hospitalized immediately and given both antibiotics
and round-the-clock care.
Although lymphedema is a distressingly common ailment, many General Practitioners
sadly do not recognize its symptoms or are ignorant of where effective lymphedema
treatment can be obtained. Untreated, lymphedema is progressive and is self-propagating
(swelling causes weight gain causes increased immobility causes weight gain causes
swelling). If caught in the early stages, it can be 'headed off at the pass' to a
large extent but until GP's learn to recognize it, most sufferers will be beyond help
by the time it is finally diagnosed.
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