Nearly 5 million Americans suffer from lymphedema, a condition in which protein accumulates, causing limbs to swell. Some cases are primary, developing as a result of a birth defect such as Milroy's disease, but the majority are secondary, occurring when the body's lymphatic system is compromised or damaged from cancer surgery, radiation treatment, infection, trauma or hereditary conditions.
The body's lymphatic system consists of a network of lymph nodes and vessels that serve as a filter to remove toxins and other harmful substances. When lymph nodes are surgically removed or aren't working correctly, fluid accumulates, causing lymphedema.
Common symptoms are swelling that restricts movement; aching, tightness or heaviness in the affected limb; recurring infections; and a hardening or thickening of skin. Lymphedema can get progressively worse if not treated at the onset.
- Compression bandages to increase tissue pressure and prevent fluid build-up.
- Manual lymph drainage to redirect fluid and reduce swelling.
- Specific exercises to keep fluids moving in affected limbs.
- Skin care to maintain healthy tissue and prevent infection.
The typical course of therapy is covered by most health insurance plans. Participation in the Edema Management Program requires a physician’s referral.