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Ann Haynes, PTA
Managing Lymphedema
La Plata Physical Therapy, Inc.
. http://laplatapt.com/

Managing Lymphedema

Lymphedema is a chronic and incurable condition commonly associated with cancer. The most common cause of this condition is breast cancer and the National Cancer Institute reports 50-70% of Lymphedema cases develop after axillary treatment.

Even though cancer is the most common cause of Lymphedema it may also be caused by trauma, infection, chronic venous insufficiency, obesity, or self-induced as well as Primary Lymphedema, which is congenital.

Lymphedema may be incurable, but it is manageable. Early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to the successful management of Lymphedema. Things to look for if you are in the high-risk category are discomfort such as heaviness or achiness, skin changes, loss of anatomical contours and squaring of toes.

Symptoms can be slow or rapid but are normally progressive. If symptoms are present, notify your doctor. Once diagnosed, treatment can begin. Treatment with a certified lymphedema therapist consists of manual lymph drainage (MLD), compression bandaging, remedial exercises and education. Goals/Benefits of the treatment of lymphedema consist of decreased limb size/weight, increased mobility, decreased risk of deep vein thrombosis, less risk and overall comfort. Once the goals are reached, self-care/maintenance continues.

The maintenance phase consists of wearing compression garments, performing self-MLD, possible self-bandaging for night, skin/nail care and exercise and resources such as pumps. Pumps would normally take the place of self-MLD during the maintenance phase. Maintenance is critical as reductions gained during treatment may be lost.

Treatment is imperative. Early identification and treatment can help people suffering from lymphedema maintain their quality of life. Lymphedema treatment is covered under Medicare, most managed care organizations, and most private commercial carriers.

Informational resources available regarding lymphedema include National Lymphedema Network (http://www.lymphnet.org), National Cancer Institute (http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/lymphedema), and City of Hope Lymphedema Foundation, Inc. (http://lymphedemacircleofhope.org).

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