10 Lymphedema Therapy Essentials
The goal of lymphedema therapy is to reduce physical and psychological suffering, to restore function, and prevent the development of infection.
The lymph system is a network of tissues, organs, and lymph vessels. Lymphedema is a common problem that can be caused by cancer.
Parts of the lymph system include:
1. Lymph: A clear fluid that contains white blood cells that fight the growth of tumors and infection.
2. Lymph vessels: They are a network of thin tubes. Their job is to help lymph flow through the body.
3. Lymph nodes: Small, bean-shaped structures. They help fight the onset of infection and development of disease.
The thymus, tonsils, bone marrow and spleen are also part of the lymph system, however they don’t play a direct part in lymphedema.
Lymphedema may either be primary or secondary.
Symptoms for primary lymphedema may occur at birth or later in life. It’s caused by an abnormal development in the lymph system. On the other hand, secondary lymphedema is caused by damage to the lymph system.
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Swelling of the arms or legs are the most common signs of lymphedema. You should also consult the doctor if you are experiencing any of the following:
– A full or heavy feeling in an arm or leg.
– Loss of hair.
– Burning feeling in the legs.
– A tight feeling in the skin.
– Itching of the legs or toes.
– Thickening of the skin, with or without skin changes.
– Trouble sleeping.
– A feeling of tightness when wearing shoes, bracelets, clothing, or watches.
These symptoms may occur slowly. If there is an infection, the occurrence will usually be a lot faster.
Lymphedema can occur after the development of cancer. Risk factors for lymphedema include:
1. Slow healing of the skin after surgery.
2. Removal and/or radiation of lymph nodes.
3. Scar tissue in the lymph ducts caused by radiation therapy or surgery.
4. Being overweight or obese.
The diagnosis of lymphedema involves the examination of the lymphatic system.
The most common tests and procedures used to diagnose lymphedema are physical exam and history taking, lymphoscintigraphy, and MRI.
There are three stages to describe lymphedema.
Stage I: The affected limb (arm or leg) becomes swollen giving it a heavy feeling.
Stage II: Besides a swollen limb is a spongy feeling.
Stage III: The swollen limb may be very large.
The recommended treatment for lymphoedema is DLT (decongestive lymphatic therapy). Other ways to treat lymphoedema are:
1. Hygiene and skin care
Appropriate skin care is very important to prevent recurrent cellulitis or lymphangitis. Cleanse the skin regularly and dry thoroughly.
2. Physical therapy and compression
Complex physical therapy is the first-line treatment for lymphedema. This treatment advocates the use of compression, pneumatic pumps, or multilayer bandaging.
3. Other conservative therapies
It’s very helpful to lose weight, avoid constrictive clothing, and stay away from trauma.
Surgical treatment is palliative, not curative. For the treatment of lymphedema, a myriad of surgical procedures will be advocated.
Patients should seek to exercise.
There is a massage technique known as manual lymph drainage which should be done by someone with proper training on the technique.
7. Pneumatic compression
Wear a sleeve over your affected arm or leg. It puts pressure on your limb and moves the lymph fluid away from the toes and fingers.
8. Compression garments
Wear a compression garment when performing exercises of the affected limb.
It involves small incisions in the skin where a thin tube is inserted through to suck fat out of tissue.
10. Complete decongestive therapy (CDT)
This approach will involve lifestyle changes and therapies.
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