Buddy Check 12: Lymphedema - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Cape Girardeau, MO

Buddy Check 12: Lymphedema

Buddy Check 12: Lymphedema
By: Christy Hendricks

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - Breast cancer affects one in eight women in a lifetime.  Not only do patients have to deal with treatment of the cancer, other health problems can develop from the treatment.

Patients who have mastectomies often develop lymphedema.  It happens many times after lymph nodes are removed during surgery and fluid builds up in the arm.  While there's no cure for lyphedema there is treatment.

"After I finished with all the surgery and all the chemo and everything that took all of my time and energy, I noticed that my arm continued to hurt," said Connie Eichhorn.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. 

Eichhorn says after 23 lymph nodes were removed from her arm during a mastectomy, she could barely buckle her seat belt and couldn't sleep through the night.

After hearing about lymphedema through a support group, she sought treatment from physical therapist Paula Stout.

"The treatment of choice for lymphedema is manual lymph drainage.  It's not massage.  It's a treatment by which we stimulate the lymph vessels to reroute the fluid around that area that's been removed," said Stout.

"Like the very first treatment I went home and I think I slept all night which I hadn't done in probably six months," Eichhorn said.

Connie receives the manual lymph drainage treatment every week.  

She also wears a compression sleeve several hours a day to reduce swelling.

"Lymphedema is aggravating and it takes a lot of time and it's painful, but compared to the other things that I went through in that year, probably, it's really a much easier thing to deal with," Eichhorn said. 

Stout says anyone who's had lymph nodes removed probably have a little bit of lymphedema.

If left untreated, it could cause infections and hardening of the skin. 

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What is lymphedema?
Primary lymphedema is caused by a malformation of the lymphatic system.
Secondary lymphedema is often caused by surgery removal of lymph nodes, injury, scarring, or radiation therapy.  Many breast cancer patients develop lymphedema.

Symptoms:
Swelling, pain, joint immobility, feeling of heaviness, repeated infections, skin thickening

Treatment:
Manual lymph drainage - manual treatment technique which improves the activity of the lymph vessels and re-routes the lymph flow around the area of blockage.

Compresson therapy - special compression garments are applied to the arm or limb to reduce swelling.

Skin and nail care - helps prevent bacterial and fungal growth.  Use a low pH lotion to maintain moisture and reduce the chance of an infection.

Therapeutic exercise - exercises done while wearing the compression garments to promote the flow of lymph and improve range of motion.

Site for more information on lymphedema:

National Lymphedema Network

National Cancer Institute

American Cancer Society

Vascular Web

Mayo Clinic

Arm Lymphedema

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