What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is chronic, painful swelling, usually in an arm or leg, caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system.
The job of the lymphatic system is to move the protein-rich lymph fluid from the tissues to the lymph nodes to be filtered and cleansed. When the lymphatic system doesn't disperse this fluid quickly enough, the resulting buildup of lymph fluid and tissue waste product leads to swelling and hardening of the affected area. Bacteria can multiply in the trapped fluid, increasing the possibility of infection.
What Causes Lymphedema?
Primary lymphedema can occur in people born with missing lymph nodes or an impaired lymphatic system.
Secondary lymphedema can be caused by:
- Cancer treatment, especially for breast cancer
- Surgeries that involve lymph node removal
- Trauma to an extremity
- Insect Bites
- Air travel (because of its effect on circulation during extended flights)
Michelle Garza is a seasoned Doctor of Physical Therapy who is certified in manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) & complete decongestive therapy (CDT). She received her training & certification from the Academy of Lymphatic Studies, the leading lymphedema certification training school in the US.
Michelle creates an individualized plan of care for each patient with components of Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) that may include manual lymphatic drainage, compression bandaging, lymphatic exercise, skin care and education.
Taking Care of Yourself
- Use caution with sharp objects--wear gloves while gardening, or shave with an electric razor
- Avoid blood draws and vaccinations in the affected limb. Have blood pressure taken in the unaffected arm.
- Don't apply heat. Stay away from heating pads, saunas, hot tubs, etc
- Whenever possible, keep the arm or leg elevated above the level of the heart.
- Avoid tight, constricting clothing or jewelry.
- Wear shoes. Don't go barefoot.
- Conduct thorough daily checks of the arm or leg, checking for cuts, rashes, insect bites, or anything that could open the door to infection.