Lymphedema is a very common and serious condition that affects at least
3 million Americans. It occurs when the lymphatic system becomes insufficient
and is unable to perform its normal functions. The result is an abnormal
accumulation of water and proteins, primarily under the first layer of
skin tissue. While lymphedema is most commonly present in the extremities,
it may also affect the trunk, abdomen, head and neck, the external genitalia
as well as the inner organs. Its onset is gradual in some patients and
sudden in others. Most patients develop lymphedema after surgery and/or
radiation therapy for various cancers (breast, uterus, prostate, bladder,
lymphoma, and melanoma).
Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) is the therapy of choice for most patients
suffering from lymphedema. CDT is a non-invasive, multi-component approach
to treat lymphedema. The goal in lymphedema management is to reduce the
swelling and to maintain the reduction by removing excess proteins and
water from the tissues, utilizing remaining lymph vessels and other lymphatic
pathways. Additional goals are prevention and elimination of infections
and the reduction and removal of fibrotic (hardened) tissues. Lymphedema
is serious due to its long-term physical and psychosocial consequences
for patients as it continues to progress if left untreated.
CDT has four components designed to achieve this goal:
- Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)
- Compression Therapy
- Decongestive Exercises
- Skin Care
Treatment it applied in two phases:
- Intensive Phase: The patient is treated by a skilled and specially trained
therapist 2-3 days a week until the swollen extremity is reduced to a
normal or near normal size.
- Self-Management Phase: The patient assumes responsibility for managing,
improving and maintaining the results achieved in the intensive phase.
While lymphedema is considered to be a chronic condition, the CVMC lymphedema
management program is designed to provide individualized treatment, education,
support and follow-up to enhance the long-term success of each patient
we serve. If you are interested in finding out more information about
treating lymphedema, please contact certified lymphedema therapist Kerry
Riffle, OT/L, CLT at the Center for Rehabilitation at Catawba Valley Medical
Center (828) 326-2131.