Lymphedema is defined as a swelling of a body part (usually a limb), which is caused by insufficient lymph drainage. This is often a result of damaged or blocked lymphatic vessels. It is a debilitating symptom, frequently seen in patients who have undergone treatment for breast or prostrate cancer, that is both physically and emotionally distressing. Many patients with lymphedema have found themselves searching for relief of their condition only to be told that they have to learn to live with it as nothing can be done. Left untreated, lymphedeama can lead to significantly increased limb size, reduced range of motion and decreased function, infections and chronic ulcerations.
At Helen Hayes Hospital, our occupational therapists are involved in treating people with lymphedema. Their focus of treatment is to reduce and control the swelling and to assist patients in adjusting to living with this chronic condition.
Research has shown that the most effective treatment for lymphedema is Complete Decongestive Therapy performed by a skilled therapist. CDT consists of five components: Manual Lymph Drainage, compression bandaging, exercise, skin care and patient education. Treatment includes patient education about the do’s and don’ts of caring for lymphedema, skin care, the use of the Reid Sleeve – a device use to reduce the swelling and instructing patients in compression bandaging. Duration of treatment is determined at time of the evaluation, but is an average of four weeks. To ensure the benefits of the treatment and to maintain the reduction in the limb, a compression garment is usually ordered at the end of therapy and is worn daily to prevent the swelling from returning.
Our lymphedema program is designed for individuals who are experiencing discomfort and reduced mobility due to severe swelling in an extremity. To participate in the program the patient must obtain a prescription from their doctor, have a Doppler done to rule out any possibility of a blood clot and a note from the doctor stating that there is no sign of infection.
While there is no cure for lymphedema, it can be controlled. Here at Helen Hayes Hospital, we can treat and help you manage this condition. For further information, please do not hesitate to call us at 845-786-4480, or to make an appointment call 845- 786-4194.
-Patricia Saweikis, OTR/L