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Lymphedema Garments

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Lymphedema is an accumulation of protein rich fluid causing swelling. This occurs when the lymphatic workload exceeds the lymphatic transport capacity. Lymphedema is not usually painful and may go untreated for years.

More scientifically, lymphedema is the swelling of subcutaneous tissues due to the accumulation of excessive lymph fluid. The accumulation of lymph fluid results from impairment to the normal clearing function of the lymphatic system and/or from an excessive production of lymph. Lymphedema is divided into two broad classes according to etiology. Primary lymphedema is a relatively uncommon, chronic condition which may be due to such causes as Milroy's Disease or congenital anomalies. Secondary lymphedema, which is much more common, results from the destruction of or damage to formerly functioning lymphatic channels, such as radical surgical procedures with removal of regional groups of lymph nodes (for example, after radical mastectomy), post-radiation fibrosis, and spread of malignant tumors to regional lymph nodes with lymphatic obstruction, among other causes.

The three main functions of the lymph system are:

Lymphedema affects approximately 65% of women who undergo excision of one or more lymph nodes and/or radiation for breast cancer. Approximately 5% note swelling and symptoms of lymphedema within 1 year of surgery. That number increases to 30% within 10 years.

The most successful treatment for lymphedema includes a Combined Decongestive Program:

For assistance in obtaining the correct garment and assuring proper fit please contact our office for additional information.

Preventing Lymphedema

A breast cancer diagnosis provokes tremendous fear and anxiety.  Couple that with treatment -- chemotherapy, radiation, or mastectomy -- and women experience even more stress and anxiety.

Afterward, most survivors feel so happy to be alive that they don't think twice about the side effects of treatment, such as lymphedema.  But about 20 percent of breast cancer survivors -- nearly 400,000 American women -- develop the condition.

How Lymphedema Begins

Removing lymph nodes is an important part of breast cancer treatment.  That way doctors can determine whether cancer has spread from its primary site.  Without these nodes, women are at increased risk for lymphedemas -- the build-up of lymphatic fluid in the tissue.

Signs and symptoms include a full sensation in the limb(s); tight skin; decreased hand, wrist or ankle flexibility; and difficulty fitting into clothing.  If left untreated, lymphedema can lead to serious infections.  Three stages -- ranging from mild to severe -- characterize the condition:

Treatment Options

To treat lymphedema, therapists move accumulated fluid out of the affected areas.  This process is called complex decongestive therapy (CDT).  It's based on compression bandaging, exercise and manual lymph drainage -- a form of massage that consists of rhythmic strokes that stimulate lymphatic vessels to contract and encourage lymph flow.  Skin care is also an important part of CDT.

If skin isn't maintained, lesions can develop that allow bacteria to enter an already immune-compromised system.  This produces addition lymph system destruction.  CDT treatment, however, helps maintain skin.  Swelling usually decreases in four to 14 treatments over two to four weeks.

To further reduce swelling in the arms, patients usually wear medical-grade compression garments.  With proper care, lymphedema can be prevented:


Muscle Strain



With proper education and care, you can recognize lymphedema's symptoms and seek treatment early.  Talk to your therapist and learn more about how to avoid the condition.

Guidelines for avoiding lymphedema
  1. Don't ignore any slight increase of swelling in your arm, hand, fingers or chest wall.
  2. Never allow an injection or blood drawing in your affected arm(s).
  3. Have your blood pressure checked regularly.
  4. Keep the edemic or at-risk arm(s) spotlessly clean.  Use lotion after bathing, and when drying, be gentle and thorough.
  5. Avoid vigorous, repetitive movements, such as scrubbing, pushing and pulling.
  6. Avoid heavy lifting.  Never carry heavy handbags or bags with over-the-shoulder straps on your affected side.
  7. Don't wear tight jewelry or elastic bands around affected fingers or arm(s).
  8. Avoid extreme temperature changes when bathing or washing dishes.  Protect your arm from the sun at all times as well.
  9. Avoid trauma, such as bruises, cuts, or sunburns.
  10. When air traveling, wear a well-fitting compression sleeve.
  11. Maintain your ideal weight through a low-sodium, high-fiber diet, and avoid smoking and alcohol.

With proper education, you can recognize lymphedema's signs and seek treatment early to avoid the condition's irreversible effects.


Ingrid Frank has successfully completed the specialized training required to become a certified fitter for Jobst Elvarex brand lymphedema garments (Certified Fitter #867202), as well as for Juzo and Sigvaris.

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