What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema is an abnormal build-up of protein-rich fluid within your body. Your body’s lymphatic system, when working properly, helps to fight infection and acts like a waste removal system, eliminating toxins and waste. When your lymphatic system is disrupted or "clogged", fluid can build-up causing swelling – most often noticed in the arms, legs, head and neck.
Lymphedema can often occur following cancer treatments, including lymph node removal surgery and radiation. Lymphedema can also be an inherited condition or occur as a long-term complication of another disease process.
There are different stages of lymphedema. Early on, swelling can be reduced by simple elevation of the swollen limb. However, without proper treatment, the protein-rich swelling can begin to progress into chronic, unmanageable swelling and hardening of the affected tissue, known as lymphostatic fibrosis. Further complications such as fungal infections, additional hardening of the affected tissue, wounds, and weeping of fluid through the skin may occur without proper treatment.
Treatment at The Bellevue Hospital
The Bellevue Hospital now offers lymphedema treatment through our Rehabilitation Services Department. Our Certified Lymphedema Therapist provides Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT), a non-invasive therapy used to reduce the effects of lymphedema. Depending on the severity and extent of the condition, CDT treatment options at TBH may include:
• Manual lymph drainage: A gentle hands-on treatment that increases the activity of lymphatics and manually moves the fluid from the affected area.
• Compression therapy: The elastic fibers in the skin are damaged with chronic skin changes and swelling. Compression therapy helps support the skin and improves the function of the muscle, helps to reduce fibrotic tissue and promotes venous and lymphatic health.
• Exercise: A gentle exercise program is essential to activate joints and muscles.
• Skin care: Since the skin in a lymphedema affected area is more susceptible to infections, a low-pH lotion free of alcohol and fragrances should be used.
• Water consumption: Drinking enough water for your body to stay hydrated also benefits your lymphatic system.
If you suffer from complications related to lymphedema, ask your primary care provided about a referral to TBH’s Rehabilitation Services Department. For more information on lymphedema treatment, call 419.483.4040, Ext. 4279.