Lymphedema is a condition that may occur after lymph node removal, cancer near a lymph node, or radiation in the lymph node area. Whatever the cause, it is imperative to have the right information about this periodic swelling of a limb due to lymph “backup.” Patients who visit our lymphedema specialty practice at Keck medicine usually have many questions. Lymphedema is not a common condition that everyone knows about. One of the questions we get asked frequently is whether or not lymphedema might go away on its own. We’ll discuss that here.
Types of Lymphedema
In a broader sense, lymphedema is what it is. It is swelling in a limb caused by a disruption in the flow of fluid through the lymphatic system. More specifically, it may be acute or chronic. Acute lymphedema may begin anytime within a year after receiving cancer treatment. This type is generally mild and tends to go away on its own or with conservative treatments.
Even though acute lymphedema may present mild symptoms and may go away in time, it is important to talk to a doctor about this development. The doctor should examine the swollen area to ensure it is not caused by an infection or blood clot.
Chronic lymphedema typically begins to develop sometime a year or more after cancer treatment. The swelling that occurs may be mild but could also be severe and uncomfortable as lymph fluid accumulates in the skin and other tissues. Chronic lymphedema can also impair wound healing and increase the risk of tissue or skin infections. For this reason, proper care is necessary.
The objective of lymphedema treatments is to reduce swelling and the risk of infection. A doctor may take a multi-pronged approach to treatment that includes one or more of the following:
- A custom compression garment to wear on the affected limb.
- Manual lymphatic drainage massage, performed by a specialist.
- Intermittent pneumatic compression, a special compression garment that “pulses” the limb to move fluid through the lymphatic system.
- Complete decongestive therapy, performed daily by a specialist, utilizes multiple approaches to drain fluid and reduce the risk of infection.
- Surgery. In some cases, conservative measures are not sufficient to manage swelling. Dr. Patel is a specialist in reconstructive microsurgery who performs proven techniques to bypass or transfer affected lymph nodes.
We have offices located in Los Angeles and Glendale. To consult with a lymphedema specialist, contact us at 323.442.0416.