Lymphedema Care

Lymphedema is the swelling of a body part, most often an arm or leg, which is caused by an accumulation of lymphatic fluid. It can also occur in the abdomen, face, and neck. Lymphedema cannot be cured, however it can be reduced and controlled with therapy and self-management.

Our lymphedema management program was established in 1998 and is the longest standing lymphedema program in our regional service area. Our occupational therapists have been trained in one or more methods of lymphedema treatment, including specialized training in European and American methods. A physician's referral is needed for occupational therapy lymphedema management.

Symptoms of lymphedema

Lymphedema begins as a soft, fluid-filled swelling anywhere on the body. The affected area may also become inflamed. Eventually the area thickens, becomes fibrotic, or hardened, and the skin breaks down.

The patient may experience increased pain in the area, heaviness or diminished range of motion in the affected limb and increased difficulty performing normal activities. If you notice persistent swelling, it is very important that you seek immediate medical advice as early diagnosis and treatment improve both the prognosis and the condition.

Who is a candidate for lymphedema treatment?

  • Those who have experienced swelling following lymph node removal, radiation, infection or trauma
  • People who have noticed an increase in swelling due to venous edema
  • Those who have congenital impairment of the lymphatic system

Types and causes of lymphedema

Primary lymphedema
Primary lymphedema is caused by a deficient lymphatic system. Swelling can be present at birth or may not occur until later years.

Secondary lymphedema
Secondary lymphedema is caused by removal of, or damage to, lymph nodes or lymphatic structures. This may result in a permanent blockage of fluid from an area. Secondary lymphedema can develop as a result of surgery, radiation trauma, infection or venous insufficiency.

Treatments we offer

A specific treatment program is designed to fit the needs of each person.

Treatment may consist of:

  • Manual lymphatic treatment, a light massage to remove and reroute fluid
  • Compression bandaging
  • Exercise
  • Skin care instruction
  • Patient education in self-management techniques
  • Compression garments

What if lymphedema is untreated?

If lymphedema is untreated, the risk of infection increases in the affected area due to the build-up of protein-rich fluid which acts as a breeding ground for bacteria. A person may also experience pain, heaviness or diminished use of the involved limb.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System staff deliver great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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