Treatment for lymphedema includes:
- Compression (usually with multilayered bandages)
- Manual lymph drainage (MLD)
- Range of motion exercises
Manual lymph drainage is a light massage therapy technique in which the skin is moved in certain directions based on the structure of the lymphatic system. This helps the lymph fluid drain through the proper channels.
Treatment also includes skin care to prevent injuries, infection, and skin breakdown, as well as light exercise and movement programs. Exercise should be carefully designed by a physical therapist. It should help drainage without leading to swelling, which could make your condition worse.
Wearing compression stockings on the affected area or using a pneumatic compression pump on and off may be helpful. Your doctor and physical therapist will decide which compression methods are best.
Surgery is used in some cases, but it has limited success. The surgeon must have a lot of experience with this type of procedure. You will still need physical therapy after surgery to reduce lymphedema.
Types of surgery include:
- Removal of abnormal lymphatic tissue
- Transplant of normal lymphatic tissues to areas with abnormal lymphatic drainage (less common)
Rarely, the surgeon will bypass abnormal lymph tissue using vein grafts. These procedures are not usually successful and are often done experimentally.
Lymphedema is a
In addition to swelling, the most common complications include:
- Chronic wounds and
- Skin breakdown
You must be vigilant about skin care and hygiene. There is also a small risk of developing a lymph-tissue type of cancer.
Calling your health care provider
See your doctor if you have swelling of your arms, legs, or lymph nodes that does not go away.
Review Date: 08/14/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.