Lymphedema is an abnormal buildup of fluid that causes swelling, most often in the arms or legs. The condition develops when lymph vessels or lymph nodes are missing, impaired, damaged or removed.
"Primary lymphedema" can affect from one to four limbs and other parts of the body and can be present at birth or develop at puberty or adulthood. Specific causes are unknown but may be associated with vascular anomalies such as hemangioma, lymphangioma, Port Wine Stain or Klippel Trenaury.
The more common "Secondary lymphedema" can develop as a result of surgery, radiation, infection or trauma. Specific surgeries — such as surgery for melanoma or breast, gynecological, head and neck, prostate or testicular, or bladder or colon cancer, all of which currently require removal of lymph nodes — put patients at risk for developing secondary lymphedema. If lymph nodes are removed, there is always a risk of developing lymphedema.
In addition, aircraft flight and some medications also have been linked to the onset of lymphedema in post-surgical cancer patients.
The mainstay of lymphedema treatment is Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT), which is comprised of several elements: manual lymphatic massage, skin care and bandaging, compression garments (sleeves, stockings, devices such as Reid Sleeve, CircAid, Tribute), exercise, and instruction in self care.
At Rehabilitation & Wellness, we are fortunate to have Tara Wilkie, PT, CLT, who is a certified lymphedema specialist with more than 15 years of clinical experience.