Lymphedema is chronic swelling, typically of the arms or legs, resulting from the accumulation of lymph fluid. It occurs when there is a block in the lymphatic system that prevents proper drainage of lymph fluid.
Lymphedema is a common complication following the removal of lymph nodes or use of radiation during cancer treatment and can occur months or years later. Though less common, lymphedema can also arise from inherited conditions that create problems with the development of lymph vessels.
Common symptoms of lymphedema:
- Swelling of part or all of the arm, leg or other part of the body
- Feeling of heaviness or tightness of the skin
- Hardening of the skin
- Limited range of motion or difficulty performing normal activities due to discomfort
- Recurring infections of the skin
Possible complications from untreated lymphedema include:
- Serious bacterial infections of the skin
- Infection of the lymph vessels
- In rare cases, a type of soft tissue cancer
What are the treatment options?
There is no cure for lymphedema and treatment varies from patient to patient. It often involves physical therapy to manage the symptoms and improve mobility. Other treatments are geared toward keeping the lymph fluid moving.
- Use of compression sleeves or garments
- Mild exercises to induce drainage
- Manual drainage
- Pneumatic pumps to drain fluid
Our surgeons and occupational and physical therapists work together to develop a comprehensive treatment plan for each patient. Find more lymphedema treatment options here.
What are modern surgical options?
Ketan Patel, MD, is one of the few surgeons in the world specially trained in innovative surgical procedures that are proving to be more effective for some patient to help reduce the swelling, pain and discomfort that came come with lymphedema.
Dr. Patel has experience performing lymphovenous bypass, vascularized lymph node transfers as well as liposuction to remove fluid and fat from affected areas.
Combining classic therapies with cutting-edge surgical techniques is one way Keck Medicine of USC helps patients with lymphedema maximize the relief of symptoms related to this condition.