Nonsurgical Lymphedema Treatment
If your provider suspects lymphedema, you may be referred to a physical or occupational therapist. Together, the nonsurgical lymphedema treatments listed below are known as complete decongestive therapy.
Lifestyle Changes and Exercise
A healthy diet and elevating your affected limbs can help your body to better circulate stagnant lymph fluid. Exercise helps the muscles become more efficient in pumping lymphatic fluid throughout the body.
Lymphatic swelling can stretch your skin to the point of breaking, causing painful wounds and scarring. To help prevent skin damage and infections, our physical and occupational therapists teach you how to maintain good skin hygiene (using antibacterial soap, moisturizing, wearing sunscreen) and monitor skin lesions. They may also recommend using long-handle lotion applicators, devices, and making other modifications to help you bathe and apply moisturizer.
Garments like compression socks and sleeves along with special fabrics, bandages, and wraps help promote the flow of fluid through lymph channels. Special compression devices apply pressure to irregularly shaped limbs. Our lymphedema therapists have been trained to use these devices effectively and will teach you and your family members how to use them correctly at home.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage
Certified lymphedema therapists perform this intensive massage technique that helps move lymph fluid out of congested areas and into decongested areas.
Some medications are used to treat certain lymphedema symptoms. Topical steroids and antihistamines reduce skin inflammation and itching. Oral medications help reduce inflammation, thin lymphatic fluids, restore more normal vein function, and improve lymphatic flow.
Surgical Options for Lymphedema
Performed by vascular surgeons or plastic surgeons, lymphedema surgery is usually only recommended for people who have secondary lymphedema, aren’t seeing satisfactory improvement with other treatments, or have cosmetic concerns. Even after surgery, people with lymphedema will still need to wear compression garments or wraps, practice good skin hygiene, and continue other maintenance therapies.
During this minimally invasive procedure, also called lymphovenous bypass, a surgeon attaches lymph vessels to each other or to veins, bypassing damaged lymphatic tissue and allowing drainage elsewhere. You’ll go home the same day as your surgery. Before surgery, you may need to undergo a special type of imaging called lymphoscintigraphy. It helps your surgeon map out your lymphatic system and identify blockages.
Lymph Node Transfer/Transplant
One or more healthy lymph nodes from another part of your body, usually the abdomen, are transplanted into the damaged region. This helps revitalize the lymphatic tissues and encourages new lymph node growth in that area. You’ll stay in the hospital for a few days after the surgery to recover.
Debulking and Liposuction
Lymphedema can cause fatty deposits to accumulate in an area of the body, making it heavy and difficult to use or move. Removing these fatty deposits through surgery or liposuction can help reduce weight in that area and restore function.