What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a highly under-diagnosed condition that affects the lymphatic vessels, which are responsible for transporting protein-rich lymph fluid back into the circulatory system. When lymph vessels are unable to transport this fluid properly, a build-up occurs, resulting in swelling and the thickening of the skin.

Who is at risk?

If you have had a mastectomy, lumpectomy, radiation treatment, lymph node removal, surgeries, infections, or trauma to the limbs, you may be at risk for developing lymphedema.



How can I tell if I have lymphedema?

A common indicator of lymphedema is indentations that do not immediately disappear after the skin has been depressed by the hand or fingers. This condition is usually found in the legs and arms; however, lymphedema can affect any region of the body. Many people with lymphedema are labeled over-weight, yet lymphedema is not about fat storage.

Using Compression Therapy

Although there is no cure, lymphedema can be managed. If a limb is swollen, fibrotic (firm) and doesn’t seem to change much in size, we recommend you see a registered therapist that does Manual Lymphatic Drainage or Complete Decongestive Therapy. This may help soften the tissue, reduce edema and bring back better skin integrity. When a therapist deems you are ready for a garment, seeing a certified fitter who has experience, will help you decide the type of compression garment that will be required. In order to avoid accumulation of evacuated fluid, one must wear the right density, compression class and style of garment. Compression garments are designed to keep continuous pressure on the swollen/affected area to assist in the drainage of fluid and minimize swelling.

How do compression stockings work?

Compression stockings are designed to provide an external wall to the leg and veins, to assist with circulation and minimize swelling. Compression stockings provide graduated compression. This means that the strongest compression begins at the ankles and gradually decreases compression towards the top of the garment. Gradual compression is designed to work in conjunction with the natural pumping action of the calf muscle. It is a common fear for some that compression stockings will cut off circulation or be uncomfortable. However, when fitted and worn properly, compression stockings should be comfortable and assist with circulation, not to restrict it. As your CertiCare fitter, we will work with you in deciding what garment would best suit your needs. We require a prescription from your physician, who may diagnose you with one of the indications listed in the sections below.

Preventive Arm Sleeves

Lymphedema can develop after breast surgery or treatment when there is a change in the path that drains the fluids in the lymphatic system. It can occur minutes after a surgery or procedure, a few months or years, or not at all. If you have had a simple mastectomy, radical mastectomy, lumpectomy, lymph node removal or radiation therapy, you could be at risk of developing lymphedema.If you are at risk, discuss with your doctor or therapist if a graduated compression garment is right for you. It is suggested for prevention to wear a compression arm sleeve when flying, exercising or if doing any continuous movement or putting a stain on the affected limb like gardening, baking/cooking, cleaning and golf.

Inspiring Survivors Share Their Experiences

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For more information on lymphedema and compression:
Lymphedema Awareness Foundation
My Lymphedema