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Lymphedema: Causes And Treatments

Lymphedema affects nearly one million Americans. It is the common cause of leg or arm swelling due to the collection of excess lymph fluid. This swelling may not be painful, but can cause discomfort, and decrease the mobility of the patient, among other risks and side effects. But what causes it -- and how is it treated?

Causes of Lymphedema

There are two types of lymphedema: primary and secondary. Primary lymphedema is usually present at birth caused by developmental issues. Secondary lymphedema can occur from a number of sources, including cancer and treatment (like surgery or radiation therapy), infections and injuries.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, in Western societies, one of the most common causes of lymphedema in western societies is removal of the breast (mastectomy) and underarm lymph tissue for breast cancer.

Lymphedema Treatments

Lymphedema care takes a comprehensive, combined approach of medical services and patient education, designed and delivered by a team of certified professionals.

According to VNA Certified Lymphedema Therapist Pamela Bebenroth, lymphedema is a chronic condition that requires ongoing management from the patient and in-home caregiver.

The following are common courses of treatment for lymphedema. Consult with your physician and home healthcare provider for details specific to your situation.

  • Education: Patient education is key to making dietary and lifestyle changes to reduce swelling. These factors may include reducing sodium in the diet, eating a well-rounded diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and getting ample exercise to reduce swelling and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Meticulous Skin Care: This covers everything from the right combination of lotions and soaps, to proper wound care, and learning red flags that indicate skin conditions that could turn into medical emergencies.
  • Exercise and Extremity Elevation: Treatments can include light exercise and movement programs, with techniques taught to the patient for ongoing care. Patients also learn proper techniques for elevating an arm or leg to discourage swelling between their therapies.
  • Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)/Massage Therapy: This is the application of gentle pressure and massage to affected areas to unclog the lymphatic system and let fluid drain through correct channels.
    The massage is as gentle as touching a baby’s head. Therapists will perform this on the patient and offer guidance to provide self-care if appropriate. Think of the process as unclogging pipes, or a traffic jam, where you have to start at the beginning of the issue to treat the source and get the fluid moving through the body.
  • Compression: Patients receive a customized compression program that can include short stretch wraps, garments like a stocking or sleeve, or a mechanical pump. The needs can vary, ranging from 4-8 larger wraps from the toe to thigh, to the compression of much smaller areas.

Patients are made active participants in the process, taught about from the selection of the right materials along with wrapping instruction for future self-care.

Call VNA of Ohio Today

Learn more about Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio's lymphedema therapy services, or call us today at 1-877-698-6264.

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Source: Vascular Disease Foundation