Center for Breast Care:
Understanding Lymphedema

Lymphedema is a chronic swelling of a part of the body caused by problems with the flow of lymph fluid from the area. Reasons for this can include:

  • Surgical removal of lymph nodes
  • Radiation therapy to lymph nodes
  • Congenital (born with) defect of having too few or damaged lymphatics or lymph nodes
  • Injury to the lymph system

Signs of Lymphedema or Chronic Swelling

  • Skin feeling tight or full
  • Limb(s) feeling full or heavy
  • Less movement or flexibility
  • Difficulty fitting into garments (without an overall weight gain)
  • Decreased sensation in the area
  • Jewelry may start to feel tight

Treatment of Lymphedema
Evaluation and treatment is available through the lymphedema-trained staff of the Occupational Therapy department. A referral from a physician is necessary to cover both evaluation and treatment through the occupational therapy program. Treatments may include:

  • Gentle massage to reroute and remove the fluid
  • Exercise programs
  • Compression bandages and/or garments
  • Wound and skin care
  • Adaptations to improve limitations with independence
  • Education sessions in precautions and self-management techniques