Lymphedema Therapy Services at St. Clair Hospital
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema – an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in tissue – causes swelling of a body part or parts. Although the condition can occur without any obvious cause, most cases result from injury, trauma, chronic infection of the lymph system, scarring or excision of the lymph nodes. Learn more
Causes of Lymphedema
There are two types of lymphedema – primary and secondary. Primary lymphedema can be present at birth or develop at the onset of puberty or adulthood from an unknown cause. Secondary lymphedema, or acquired lymphedema, can result from surgery, radiation, infection or trauma. Secondary lymphedema can develop immediately following surgery, or take weeks, months or even years to become evident.
Risks for Developing Lymphedema
Individuals with the following conditions have a greater risk of developing lymphedema:
- breast cancer patients who have received radiation therapy or who have had a node dissection;
- prostate cancer patients treated via whole-pelvic irradiation or surgery;
- gynecologic cancer patients who have undergone radical surgery and node dissection or radiation therapy;
- individuals with advanced testicular cancer; and/or
- individuals with a diagnosed metastatic disease, such as ovarian, colorectal, pancreatic or liver cancer that can cause destruction of the existing lymphatic vessels and/or lymph drainage.
Symptoms of Lymphedema
Since early diagnosis and treatment greatly improve an individual’s prognosis, it is essential to know the signs and symptoms of lymphedema or lymphangitis (infection). Seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:
- red, blotchy skin or discoloration of the skin
- itching of the affected area
- a "full" sensation in the limb(s)
- decreased flexibility in the limb(s)
- difficulty fitting into clothing
- tightness in a specific area, including the finger or wrist
- pain in the limb(s)
- sudden onset of high fever and/or chills
Reducing the Risk of Lymphedema
Individuals can reduce the risk of developing lymphedema by following these guidelines:
Skin Care Tips
- Keep extremities dry and clean at all times
- Apply moisturizer to skin daily
- Apply sunscreen and insect repellent when outdoors
- Never cut cuticles when having a manicure or pedicure
- Use an electric shaver to avoid nicks and skin irritation
- Avoid punctures, including injections or blood draws, when possible
- Wear gloves when gardening, washing the dishes, or using strong chemicals or detergents
- Use deodorants rather than antiperspirants to keep pores open
- Wash cuts, scratches, punctures or insect bites immediately with soap and water, apply an antibacterial ointment and observe for signs of infection (e.g., redness)
- Contact your physician immediately if you develop redness, itching, pain, increased skin temperature, and/or fever or flu-like symptoms
Activity and Lifestyle Tips
- Get plenty of low-impact exercise, such as walking, biking or swimming, or join a specially prescribed exercise program.
- Maintain good nutrition by limiting salt intake and fried foods, and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Refrain from smoking and limit consumption of alcoholic beverages.
- Avoid lifting and/or carrying heavy objects.
Currently, there is no cure for lymphedema, and no medication has been found to be effective. Therefore, prevention is the very best way to manage the condition. To help prevent lymphedema:
- pay meticulous attention to arm care management;
- recognize the signs and symptoms of infection (pain, redness, swelling, fever); and
- seek immediate treatment if signs and symptoms of lymphedema develop.
St. Clair Hospital’s Lymphedema Treatment Service
St. Clair Hospital’s certified lymphedema therapist is dedicated to providing personalized care to individuals suffering from lymphedema. The specially trained therapist provides treatment via a variety of techniques, including manual lymph drainage or massage, compression bandaging (including the use of sleeves and/or stockings), exercise and skin care. Additional education is provided to patients so they can continue treatment at home.
While lymphedema treatment is covered by most health insurance plans, patients may have to supplement their insurance depending on their individual health plan. Please contact your health insurance company to determine your level of coverage.
To Schedule an Appointment
To schedule an appointment or for more information, please call 412.942.3499 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. A referral and prescription for treatment from a primary care physician are required.