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Disease Information : Lymphedema : Treatment

Lymphedema : Treatment

How is Lymphedema treated?

Lymphedema is a chronic condition that can be diagnosed by a health care provider. There are many effective treatments of lymphedema. Although it is unusual to completely cure lymphedema, most people who receive proper treatment can lead normal, active lives.

The most important therapy for lymphedema is wearing compression garments such as prescription-strength stockings or gloves or short-stretch bandages. These compression garments need to be worn daily, but should be removed at night for sleeping. Over-the-counter support stockings do not provide adequate compression for the treatment of lymphedema, and these garments must be prescribed by a health care provider.

Probably the most effective treatment for reducing swelling due to lymphedema is known as complete decongestive physiotherapy and involves a combination of therapeutic massage (known as manual lymphatic drainage) and the use of compression bandages.  Complete decongestive physiotherapy involves intensive treatment over a limited period of time, such as multiple treatments per week for two or three weeks. At the end of therapy, a compression stocking or glove is fitted for long-term maintenance.

Certification programs are available to assure adequate training of lymphedema therapists, and listings of credentialed therapists are available (see National Lymphedema Network Web site for more information at In some cases, a health care provider may provide a pneumatic compression pump that is used on the arms or legs at home for additional treatment of lymphedema.

In rare cases, surgical treatment may be recommended for patients with advanced lymphedema that has not responded to complete decongestive physiotherapy and compression therapy. It is very unusual for lymphedema to require surgical treatment, and this should be performed only in experienced centers.

Personal Care Measures for Lymphedema*

Personal hygiene and avoidance of injury are essential in the prevention of lymphedema-related problems, especially skin infection. Follow these simple personal care measures to help keep skin healthy and reduce the risk of infection or swelling to worsen.

1. Keep skin as clean as possible. Dry skin thoroughly, but gently, especially between toes.
2. Wash hands frequently, applying lotion after each hand-washing to avoid over-drying skin.
3. Wear compression support garments as prescribed during waking hours, removing for sleep. Perform skin care before and after use. Wash gently and hang to dry; have spare garments for alternate use.
4. Avoid blood pressure cuffs, needle sticks, injections, or procedures on the affected limb. Wear a “lymphedema alert” bracelet.
5. Immediately report any new swelling or signs of infection such as redness, pain, warmth, streaks,
rash, blisters, fever, or flu-like symptoms.
6. Avoid tight clothing.
7. Avoid excess heat – overly hot showers, sun, hot tubs/saunas. Avoid sunburn and keep as cool as possible in summer weather.
8. Wear cotton-lined household gloves for housework; use garden gloves for gardening.
9. Carefully trim nails; see a podiatrist if necessary. Check feet with a mirror for wounds, fungal infections, or cracked skin. Wear extra-wide, extra-depth
10. Avoid trauma – pet scratches, insect bites, burns, sports injuries, bruising. Seek appropriate care
immediately. Wash all cuts with soap and water and apply antibiotic ointment.
11. Maintain normal body weight. Follow a low-fat, low salt, high-fiber diet plan. Exercise daily as ability
allows – walking, swimming, light aerobics, biking, yoga, and stretching are recommended.

*Excerpted from Lymphedema: A Patient's Guide by Patricia A. Lewis, MSN, FNP, Bassett Healthcare,
1 Atwell Road, Cooperstown, NY 13326. Used with permission by the author.

Lymphedema section was last modified: December 21, 2010 - 05:43 pm

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