Lymphedema

What is Lymphedema?

Lymph is a clear fluid found below the skin and in channels throughout the body. It is made up of water, white blood cells, cellular debris and protein substances. The lymphatic system purifies and transports lymph back to the circulatory system. Lymphedema is a swelling in the lymph system. This may occur when an interruption in the lymphatic flow causes fluid to accumulate and often harden (fibrosis) the soft tissue in the skin.

What is the cause?

Lymphedema is caused by a defect or disruption in the lymph flow. When individuals are born with a defect, it is called primary lymphedema. When lymph flow is disrupted, either by a lymph node dissection or radiation treatments, secondary lymphedema may occur. Secondary lymphedema is found most commonly in the arms of post-mastectomy patients and in the legs following prostate surgery.

What are signs and symptoms?

Swelling in arm, breast and/or abdomen after lymph node dissection and/or radiation therapy.
Skin hardening in the affected area.
Skin takes on the apprearance of an orange peel.

Treatment.

After an Occupational Therapy assessment, the patient will receive a number of short stretch compression bandages and will be instructed on proper bandaging techniques. The patient will wear the bandages following an exercise program and while sleeping. The therapist will perform Lymph Drainage Massage, which is a gentle and specific massage technique that empties and decompresses obstructed vessels. The technique moves the protein that has accumulated in the tissues.

Lymphedema left untreated.

If treatment is not received, lymphedema may result in: *Higher risk of infection* Hardening of tissues*Aching and heavy feeling in affected area*Possible interference with normal activities *Possible disfigurement*Cellulities and infection of the skin cells

How to seak treatment.

Your physician must first diagnose that your condition is lymphedema. Then, he/she will write a referral for treatment. Call (618) 283-5548 for an appointment with an Occupational Therapist.