There's no cure for lymphedema. Treatment focuses on reducing the swelling and controlling the pain. Lymphedema treatments include:
- Exercises. Light exercises in which you move your affected limb may encourage lymph fluid drainage and help prepare you for everyday tasks, such as carrying groceries. Exercises shouldn't be strenuous or tire you but should focus on gentle contraction of the muscles in your arm or leg. A certified lymphedema therapist can teach you exercises that may help.
- Wrapping your arm or leg. Bandaging your entire limb encourages lymph fluid to flow back toward the trunk of your body. The bandage should be tightest around your fingers or toes and loosen as it moves up your arm or leg. A lymphedema therapist can show you how to wrap your limb.
Massage. A special massage technique called manual lymph drainage may encourage the flow of lymph fluid out of your arm or leg. Be sure to have it done by someone specially trained in the technique.
Massage isn't for everyone. Avoid massage if you have a skin infection, active cancer, blood clots or congestive heart failure. Also avoid massage on areas of your body that have received radiation therapy.
- Pneumatic compression. A sleeve worn over your affected arm or leg connects to a pump that intermittently inflates the sleeve, putting pressure on your limb and moving lymph fluid away from your fingers or toes.
Compression garments. Long sleeves or stockings made to compress your arm or leg encourage the flow of the lymph fluid out of your affected limb. Wear a compression garment when exercising the affected limb.
Obtain a correct fit for your compression garment by getting professional help. Ask your doctor where you can buy compression garments in your community. Some people will require custom-made compression garments.
- Complete decongestive therapy (CDT). This approach involves combining therapies with lifestyle changes. Generally, CDT isn't recommended for people who have high blood pressure, diabetes, paralysis, heart failure, blood clots or acute infections.
In cases of severe lymphedema, your doctor may consider surgery to remove excess tissue in your arm or leg to reduce swelling.
Oct. 23, 2014
- Lymphedema. Society for Vascular Surgeons. http://www.vascularweb.org/vascularhealth/Pages/lymphedema.aspx?PF=1. Accessed Sept. 17, 2014.
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- Mohler ER, et al. Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of lymphedema. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 16, 2014.
- Chiu TW. Management of secondary lymphoedema. Hong Kong Medical Journals. 2014;20:1.
- Lymphedema (PDQ): Patient version. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/lymphedema/Patient/page1. Accessed Sept. 16, 2014.
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