Frequently Asked Questions

 Treatment of Lymphedema
Q:  I have swelling in my leg that even involves my foot; it appeared without an apparent cause. My doctor has told me that I have primary lymphedema since no other cause can be found. What other problems could cause leg swelling?

A:  Conditions that may mimic the swelling associated with lymphedema are congestive heart failure, venous disease, cellulitis, drug-induced swelling, reflex sympathetic dystrophy (changes caused by the sympathetic nervous system from an injury), tumor, lipedemia (subcutaneous fat deposits), and others.

Q:  Is there a cure for primary lymphedema?

A:  In rare cases, surgery can improve the symptoms of primary lymphedema. However, for most people, the primary aim of treatment is to control the symptoms of the disease. The benefits of treatment are potentially a relief of pain, improvement of limb function, and a significant improvement in appearance.

Q:  How can I decrease the unsightly leg swelling associated with lymphedema?

A:  There are mechanical methods available to decrease the swelling. First, bed rest and high leg elevation will remove excess fluid from your leg. There are also pneumatic pumps (single or multiple bladders intermittently inflated with air) that, when used 1-3 times per day for 30-60 minutes, can pump excess fluid from your leg. Some people become very adept at light massage and elastic compression to reduce the swelling (manual lymphatic drainage and complex decongestive therapy).

Q:  What can be used to keep the swelling (lymphedema) from coming back in my legs?

A:  Most people use elastic or non-elastic compressive wraps or stockings to keep the swelling from returning. This daily care is often helped by the use of leg elevation at night, mechanical pumps, or light massage.

Q:  Do I have other health risks I should know about because of my chronic lymphedema?

A:  Yes, infection of the swollen tissue is a risk that must be treated early and/or prevented with the use of antibiotics. Also, you are at an increased but still small risk for some types of cancer that can present as tumors or lesions within the swollen tissues.

For more information, read Chapter 21: Treatment of Lymphedema.