Lymphedema is the swelling of an arm, leg or other part of the body because of an abnormal collection of a fluid (called lymph) in the body tissues. This condition can be caused by cancer or the treatment of cancer. The danger with lymphedema comes from the constant risk of developing an uncontrolled infection in the affected limb.
The goal in treating lymphedema is to relieve discomfort by reducing swelling and to prevent further build-up of fluid. Much can be done to manage lymphedema, however, it is a long-term process. Although the swelling can usually be reduced, there is always a risk of it returning. It can take several weeks or months before there is a noticeable improvement. With treatment, the affected area should become less swollen, easier to move and more comfortable.
The six aspects of treating lymphedema are:
- skin care and preventing infection
- limb positioning and movement
- supportive compression garments (sleeves, stockings, special bras, etc.)
- massage, called manual lymphatic drainage (MLD)
Therapies may be required daily for the best results. Patients can be shown how to do these at home. Many people are able to apply their lymphedema care into their everyday activity. Click here to learn about St. Peter’s Lymphedema Clinic.