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The Treatment of Lymphedema

Lymphedema is a chronic condition.  It can be treated and controlled, but there is no permanent cure.

Treatment for lymphedema is achieved by the skillful application of a process called Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) and is in four stages:

  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD): This is a hands on technique by a qualified therapist to manipulate the affected tissue, thereby stimulating the activity of the lymph vessels and moving the static lymph fluid. A series of MLD treatments will usually decrease the swelling of the affected part to normal, or near normal size. During the period of MLD treatment, compression bandages are applied to further mobilize the lymphfluid from the affected area. 
  • Graduated Compression Garments: On completion of the course of MLD treatment, the therapist will supply a "Graduated Compression Garment". These replace the bandages that were used during the MLD treatment, and should be worn during the day when you are active. During sleep use either bandages or night garments. The compression garments work to keep the swelling down, improve circulation and prevent the re-accumulation of lymph fluid in the affected area.
  • Therapeutic Exercises: Your therapist may recommend an exercise program developed for your particular needs and ability. These exercises are designed to moved lymph fluid out of the affected area. If any of the prescribed exercises cause pain or soreness, please consult your therapist before continuing.
  • Skin Care: The skin of the affected area is often dry, and cracks in the skin may occur easily, making the area susceptible to infections. Use a low-pH lotion, without any alcohol of perfume content, to maintain the moisture of the skin and protect it. If you develop an infection, please consult your physician immediately.

For the patient, Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) really has two distinct phases:

  • Firstly, it is necessary for the therapist to remove the lymph fluid from the affected area using the manual lymph drainage (MLD) process and bandaging. Typically, these treatments are performed daily, five days a week for a period of between two to four weeks, depending upon severity. (That's why, upon diagnosis, it's very important to get immediate therapy.)
  • Secondly, the patient is fitted with a graduated compression garment, and the patient becomes responsible for self-care. Self-care involves ensuring correct use of the graduated compression garment, meticulous skin care, and performing self manual lymph drainage and therapeutic exercises which the therapist will detail for the patient. This regimen MUST be adhered to decrease the potential of recurrence.
  • Surgery: To date there are no successfully proven surgery methods that can cure lymphedema.
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