What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is an incurable but treatable medical condition caused by injury, trauma or congenital defects in the lymphatic system.
When the impairment becomes so great that the lymphatic fluid exceeds the lymphatic transport capacity, swelling results as an abnormal amount of protein-rich fluid collects in the tissues of the affected area. Two types of lymphedema exist: primary and secondary.
Primary lymphedema can be present at birth (congenital) or develop at the onset of puberty (praecox) or in adulthood (tarda). Secondary lymphedema can be caused by surgeries or radiation treatments and is a common side effect of cancer treatments that remove or damage lymph nodes or vessels.
Lymphedema is a chronic and potentially debilitating condition with no currently known cure.
Over time, untreated lymphedema results in infection, disfigurement, disability and even death. But lymphedema can be very effectively managed. The recognized standard of treatment for lymphedema is Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT). CDT comprises four interacting protocols applied in two phases (acute and ongoing): manual lymph drainage (MLD), compression therapy, lymph drainage exercises, and skin care. It is estimated that at least five million Americans suffer from lymphedema, and probably many more. Due to a lack of awareness, information, and understanding, even within the medical community, lymphedema is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed.
Links to numerous helpful resources are available on our Patient Resources page.
More extensive information about lymphedema is available through the National Lymphedema Network.