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Lymphedema Management

Lymph NodesLymphedema is a swelling disorder in which lymphatic fluid accumulates in an arm, leg, breast, or the face. The lymphatic system is a circulatory system in the body that mobilizes fluid and large particles to regional lymph nodes in the groin, armpit, neck, and abdomen. The fluid and particles are modified in the lymph nodes and returned to the blood circulation. Examples of these large particles are proteins, fat globules, bacteria, and cancer cells.

Most commonly lymphedema occurs when lymph nodes are removed for cancer treatment, receive radiation therapy, or are compressed from excessive adipose tissue. Lymphedema also occurs when too much fluid is produced from skin infection, burns, or extremes of heat. When lymphedema occurs patients initially will have painless, colorless swelling. As it progresses the affected area can get heavier and the skin can get harder.

For patients who develop lymphedema or swelling disorders, a full medical assessment is required to exclude a problem with the blood system (blood clots, heart failure) or with the lymphatic system (infection, burns, lymph node dysfunction). In the event a patient develops lymphedema a personal, tailored plan is arranged for lymphatic management. This may include activity recommendation, treatment of underlying causes, lymphatic drainage, or decongestive therapy with a lymphedema physical therapist. Regular follow-ups are required to assess control of lymphedema and to assure no other complications ensue.

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