Lymphedema Therapy – a Commonly Under-diagnosed Problem
Have you been experiencing symptoms of lymphedema? Receiving treatment for lymphedema can improve your quality of life and reduce the risk of complications due to the condition. Contact us today for a consultation with one of our specialists to learn more about the condition and treatment options.
Therapies for Lymphedema
There are several potential options for treating lymphedema. Oftentimes, many therapies will be used concurrently to help reduce swelling. This approach is often called complete decongestive therapy (CDT).
It’s important for lymphedema patients to continue moving, even when swelling in the limb makes it difficult. Movement helps the lymph vessels drain excess lymphatic fluid and can therefore help prevent the condition from worsening.
When lymphedema is caused by chronic venous insufficiency, vein ablation may be used to treat the underlying cause. Vein ablation uses heat, either from a laser or radiofrequency energy, or medical adhesive (VenaSealTM) to seal off damaged veins. The treated veins are reabsorbed into the body and blood flow is rerouted to healthy veins.
Manual Lymph Drainage
This is a gentle massage technique used to help manually push lymph fluid out of the affected limb, encouraging proper drainage. This massage technique may be done by a physical therapist, and your therapist may show you some techniques you can use at home, as well.
Your doctor or therapist may teach you special bandaging techniques to help lymph fluid drain. Bandaging involves wrapping tighter at your fingers or toes and loosening the wrapping as you work your way towards the trunk, creating a funnel of sorts to direct lymph fluid out of the limb.
Your doctor may recommend that compression garments be worn on the affected limb to encourage lymph drainage. Exercise is often combined with compression therapy to improve drainage even further.
Pneumatic compression uses a sleeve that attaches to a pump and fills with air intermittently to help pump the lymph fluid back to the trunk.
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is an incurable condition where a blockage occurs in the lymphatic system or lymph vessels aren’t functioning properly, preventing proper drainage. This causes a build-up of lymph fluid. This fluid frequently pools in the arms and/or legs, causing swelling, heaviness, discomfort, loss of range of motion, recurring infections, and ultimately, damage to the vessels and tissues in the area.
Symptoms of Lymphedema
- Swelling in one or multiple limbs, including in the fingers and toes
- Discomfort and achiness
- Recurring infection
- Thickening of the skin, discoloration
Causes of Lymphedema
There are several potential causes of lymphedema, and causes differ depending on the type of lymphedema: secondary, where the condition is caused by another condition, and primary, where defects in the formation of lymph nodes are the cause of lymphedema.
Causes of secondary lymphedema include surgery that involves the lymph nodes or radiation therapy, both frequently part of cancer treatment. Cancer itself can also cause lymphedema if it causes a blockage in the lymph nodes. Due to the multiple potential causes related to cancer and its treatments, cancer patients frequently suffer from lymphedema. Infection of the lymph nodes is another potential cause of secondary lymphedema.
The main cause of secondary lymphedema is chronic venous insufficiency, which is why it’s a condition we address here at United Vein Centers. Damage to the valves inside the lymph vessels often occurs alongside damage to valves inside the veins of the legs. The circulatory system and lymphatic system work closely together and the failure to address one of these systems when it’s not functioning well can lead to issues from the other.
Primary lymphedema is quite rare, despite that there are a few potential causes such as Miege’s disease and Milroy’s disease.
Receiving Lymphedema Treatment at United Vein Centers
Our vein specialists will work alongside your preferred lymphedema physical therapist. If you do not have a PT, we can set up a referral. A cooperative approach between health care providers, physical therapists, and patients is critical in the successful treatment of lymphedema.
With clinics scattered across the country and specialists trained in the treatment of venous and lymphatic conditions, United Vein Centers is a one stop shop for healthier legs. Our doctors will work with you to find the right combination of therapies to improve your quality of life. We use state-of-the-art, minimally invasive techniques to treat vein conditions, as well as providing our patients with the information and therapies they need to live a happier, healthier life.
We treat each patient as an individual, and the success stories from thousands of our patients serve as evidence to our dedication to the education and treatment they receive. Find a United Vein Clinic near you, and then contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our board-certified vein specialists.
What is the Goal of Lymphedema Treatment?
Since there is no cure for lymphedema, you may wonder what good all the treatments offered for it really do. The main goals of lymphedema treatment are as follows:
- Reducing the retention of lymph fluid
- Improving quality of life; improving both physical and mental health
- Improving mobility and range of motion
- Prevent infection
- Treating the underlying cause of lymphedema (e.g. Chronic Venous Insufficiency)
Since lymphedema can cause a great deal of discomfort and several complications if left untreated, it’s important to begin treatment early and keep up with the therapies recommended by your doctor. Severe lymphedema can make it difficult to use the affected limb and may require surgery, so a proactive approach can keep those suffering from the condition from many hardships.
If one has lymphedema, they should undergo a diagnostic ultrasound evaluation to identify if venous insufficiency is an underlying factor. If venous insufficiency is diagnosed, patients should undergo treatment. The combination of lymphedema and venous insufficiency is called phlebolymphedema.
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