What is Lymph?

Lymph is a clear fluid that contains mostly protein and white blood cells (the blood cells that fight infection). Lymphatic vessels drain lymph fluid from the body's tissues and organs. The fluid is filtered through lymph nodes (also called glands) and eventually drains into the bloodstream.

What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is an abnormal accumulation of protein-rich fluid in the soft tissue (swelling) which usually causes chronic inflammation and subsequent fibrosis (hardening) of the affected tissues. Most often affecting the arms and legs, it can also cause swelling (also called edema) in the areas of the head, neck and genitals. It is a chronic condition which oftentimes progresses without treatment, resulting in loss of mobility, discomfort and pain, infection and even hospitalization.

Lymphedema most often occurs in the treatment of any cancer which involves lymph node removal surgery and/or radiation therapy. Other causes of lymphedema are trauma, infection, immobility, obesity and chronic venous insufficiencies. It can also be a result of a developmental abnormality of the lymph system.

Common signs and symptoms of lymphedema can include:

  • Swelling in a part of the body (such as your breast/chest, neck, shoulder, arm, or leg)
  • Skin that is tight, hard, reddened, hot and/or has texture changes.
  • New onset of aching, tingling, numbness, or other discomfort in the area. A feeling of fullness or heaviness in a limb or area.
  • Trouble fitting one arm into clothing, or trouble fitting into or buttoning your usual size pants
  • Less movement or flexibility in affected joints (such as your hand, wrist, or shoulder)
  • Collars, rings, watches, and/or bracelets feeling tight even though you haven’t gained weight

Currently, there is no cure for lymphedema, however, treatment is very effective. When left untreated, lymphedema can progress with devastating consequences, including significant cosmetic deformities, fibrosis, cellulitis, fungal infections, lymphangitis and lymphostatic elephantiasis. Lymphedema in the lower body generally results in loss of mobility and sufferers may find it difficult or impossible to walk, complete self-care and enjoy normal everyday activities.

At Oroville Hospital, our lymphedema treatments are delivered by licensed occupational therapists certified in the Vodder method for the treatment of lymphedema.

Treatment of lymphedema is gentle and generally painless, though it does require a commitment on the part of the patient. It is referred to as complete/complex decongestive therapy (CDT), a multifaceted treatment approach consisting of:

  • manual lymph drainage (a light, gentle, skin stretch that facilitates lymph flow),
  • compression therapy (specially applied bandages or custom garments or use of a pump),
  • specific exercises
  • skincare and
  • subsequent self-management education.

Your lymphedema therapist will complete all or most of these steps over a sequence of visits (usually ranging from 2-5 times per week for a couple weeks) until your swelling is reduced and will work with you and your insurance to find the most affordable and convenient compression method to fit your specific situation. You will learn how to perform proper skin care, exercises and how to use your compression devices to avoid future edema and subsequent adverse effects. If you have a caregiver, they will want to join you at your appointments to learn how to help you.

How can I get treatment for my swelling?

Please see your physician to discuss your unique situation. If your physician diagnoses you with lymphedema, or other chronic edema that could be remedied with complete decongestive therapy, you will need a referral for lymphedema therapy. Most insurances cover this specialized therapy. Coverage of custom compression garments and pumps varies.

Contact our lymphedema office at 530-712-2191 for more information.


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