Stage 3 lymphedema front view before treatments (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Our lymphatic system is meant to help transport toxins toxins and waste. The fluid is clear and made of white blood cells. As part of treatment for cancer, lymph nodes are often surgically removed. About 15 – 20 percent of breast cancer patients who undergo this surgery develop lymphedema.
If the lymph fluid cannot circulation properly due to a blockage, the result is lymphdema which is a chronic swelling of a limb due to an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the soft tissues. The swollen limb can become grossly distorted if not cared for properly.
Obviously, if lymphedema occurs in the foot or leg, this will affect mobility. The American Cancer Society says approximately 400,000 people in the U.S. must learn how to live with lymphedema.
Lymphedema Treatment Options
While there is no cure for lymphedema, there are several things a person with this condition can do to reduce the swelling and discomfort. You should know that without treatment, lymphedema may lead to infection, thickening of the skin, and restricted motion. A treatment program may include the following:
Multilayer compression bandaging
Manual lymphatic drainage
Skin care education
Individualized exercise program
Depending on the severity of the swelling and the response to treatment, physical therapy can take a few days to a few weeks.
Is Bandaging and Wrapping an Effective Treatment For Lymphedema?
Although bandaging has been used in Europe for some time, it is a more recent innovation in the U.S. Bandaging and wrapping utilizes a four-layer wrap to work in conjunction with the pump and compression garment in controlling edema.
Toes and fingers are wrapped individually, then the hand or foot, followed by the forearm/calf, elbow/knee, upper arm and thigh. Some patients can be taught to do this, but patients with limited dexterity may have difficulty and need help.
The bandages can be expensive, but luckily are reusable. Normally those who are able can wrap themselves at night and take off the wrap in the morning, followed by their compression garment. As recently as 1988 there were no doctors and or other professionals able to diagnose or treat patients with lymphedema. In some ways, lymphedemawas an ignored disease. Today there is marked interest in lymphedema research. You can definitely live a normal and productive life providing you keep up with day-to-day self-care and maintain the affected area.