Lymphedema Program | For patients and families

Lymphedema is a chronic, progressive disease which causes swelling, usually of the arms or legs, because of non-functioning lymphatic vessels. Over time, fat and scar tissue develop and further increase the size of the affected extremity. Currently, there is no cure for lymphedema. There are two types of lymphedema:

  • Primary lymphedema has no known cause and can appear at any age.
  • Secondary lymphedema results from injury to lymphatic vessels (usually following an operation, radiation, infection, trauma, or disease).

Symptoms

Patients with lymphedema have swelling of an extremity with involvement of the hand or foot. The genitalia or other tissues also may be affected.

Lymphedema may lead to:

  • Skin changes
  • Difficulty with daily activities
  • Infection 

Diagnosis

  • Clinical Evaluation: Most patients with lymphedema can be diagnosed by history and physical examination.
  • Radiographical Evaluation: Lymphoscintigraphy can confirm or exclude lymphedema. The study evaluates the function of the lymphatics by following the uptake of a material injected into the affected area. MRI also may be used for diagnostic purposes. 

Treatment

We offer the most current non-surgical and surgical treatments.

  • Non-operative management
    • Lifestyle: Avoidance of trauma and diligent hygiene are examples of strategies to decrease complications associated with lymphedema.
    • Static compression: Custom garments will reduce the size of the affected extremity, slow disease progression, and improve symptoms.
    • Pneumatic compression: A mechanical pump can be used to reduce limb size and improve symptoms.
  • Operative management
    • Liposuction: For properly selected patients, liposuction can decrease limb size and improve symptoms.
    • Skin excisional procedures: May be indicated for some patients.