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Lymphedema is a chronic condition that often manifests as an abnormal buildup of fluid, causing swelling – most commonly in the arms or legs. This swelling may be present since birth or may develop without a known reason. Lymphedema can also occur after radiation or certain cancer-related surgeries. Initially reversible, lymphedema typically progresses to irreversible, restricting range of motion and limiting everyday activities.

For many years, the only lymphedema treatment options available were decompressive massage, wraps, and compression. Fortunately, cutting-edge surgical interventions are now available and can provide patients with significant relief.


Lymphedema Symptoms

Symptoms of Lymphedema can range from mild to severe. If triggered by cancer treatment, the symptoms could take months or years to manifest. Symptoms may include:  

  • Swelling of an arm or leg, which may include fingers and toes
  • A full or heavy feeling in an arm or leg
  • A tight feeling in the skin
  • Trouble moving a joint in the arm or leg
  • Thickening of the skin, with or without skin changes such as blisters or warts
  • A feeling of tightness when wearing clothing, shoes, bracelets, watches, or rings
  • Itching of the legs or toes
  • A burning feeling in the legs
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of hair

Causes & Risk Factors

Lymphedema occurs when the lymph vessels cannot drain lymph fluid adequately. There are two types of lymphedema: primary and secondary.

Primary lymphedema has no known direct cause, but relates to inherited problems with the lymph vessels.

Secondary lymphedema develops as a result of another condition or treatment that damages the lymph nodes or lymph vessels – for example, cancer and cancer treatment, infection, trauma, or obesity.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer associated with secondary lymphedema. When the lymph nodes from the under arm (axillary lymph nodes) are removed or damaged during breast cancer treatment, lymphedema may be present in the arms. Lymphedema can also occur in the legs as a result of melanoma surgery, which often includes removal or damage of lymph nodes in the groin (inguinal lymph nodes). Other causes of lymphedema include:

  • Being overweight/obese
  • The development of a tumor that affects or blocks the left lymph duct, lymph nodes, or vessels
  • Scar tissue in the lymph ducts under the collarbones
  • Rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis

Diagnosing Lymphedema

Regardless of the details surrounding your lymphedema, we are well-prepared and well-equipped to address your condition. If the cause of lymphedema isn’t obvious, additional tests may be ordered, including:

  • MRI Scan
  • CT Scan
  • Ultrasound
  • Lymphoscintigraphy 

Lymphedema Treatments

There is no cure for lymphedema. Creating a treatment plan for lymphedema is a highly individualized process that focuses on reducing the swelling and preventing additional complications.

The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction’s Center for Lymphedema Surgery is recognized as a Lymphatic Disease Surgery Center of Excellence (COE) by the Lymphatic Education and Research Network (LE&RN). Our advanced procedures for lymphedema have helped dramatically improve the lives of many of our patients. We specialize in the following lymphedema treatments:

Lymphaticovenous Anastomosis
Lymphaticovenous anastomosis (LVA) is an advanced microsurgical procedure designed to create alternate routes for excess lymphatic fluid to exit the affected limb.

Free Lymph Node Transfer
During this procedure, lymph nodes are harvested from one area of the body and transferred to the area of lymph node deficiency, improving drainage of the affected limb. The lymph nodes are mapped prior to surgery to avoid causing lymphedema at the donor site.

Lymphedema Liposuction
Lymphedema liposuction is a minimally invasive technique in which we remove excess fat and scar tissue. This procedure is often done in conjunction with lymphaticovenous anastomosis (LVA) or free lymph node transfer.

Lymphedema Mass Excision
Some patients have a large mass hanging from the inside or outside of their thigh which is related to lymphedema. This mass can be surgically removed, which makes it easier to walk and move your leg again.

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Lymphedema Specialist Near Me

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