Angela Meitner is never surprised when a new patient says, ‘I had never heard of lymphedema before now.’ She has come to expect it.
Because this lack of knowledge can have harmful effects, Meitner wants to share information during March, which is Lymphedema Awareness Month. She is a certified lymphedema therapist at Pawnee Valley Community Hospital in Larned.
Lymphedema is the swelling of a body part caused by problems with the lymphatic system. This could be compared to a plumbing system.
“It transports water and proteins, and removes bacteria and waste,” Meitner explained. “The process of returning proteins to the blood is crucial.”
Patients often describe lymphedema as a “heavy” feeling before they notice the swelling. They also might realize their rings or bracelets feel tighter.
If someone is born with a lymphatic-system defect, primary lymphedema may result. Secondary lymphedema may occur when damage is done to the system by infection, injury, venous insufficiency or obesity.
“We typically see the secondary version in our cancer patients who have lymph nodes removed. This results in fewer pathways for the fluid to travel,” Meitner said. “Radiation therapy can also lead to lymphedema because it destroys lymph vessels in the radiated area.”
If left untreated, additional swelling may occur. This may cause skin infections and wounds because the affected area becomes too large to handle a build-up of fluid.
“As a result, patients often have difficulty with daily activities,” Meitner noted. “Early treatment can stop the progression, while the education we provide will help patients manage their condition.
“Unfortunately, this involves lifetime maintenance. There is no cure.”
There are five components to treatment, which is referred to as Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT), said Meitner, who also is a certified occupational therapy assistant. The components are:
* Slow, gentle massage, directing fluid to areas that are not affected;
* Compression bandaging to prevent fluid from flowing back;
* Exercise for better circulation to keep fluid from moving;
* Good hygiene advice to prevent wounds and infection; and
* Self-care advice for the patient and/or caregiver.
During the March awareness campaign, Meitner plans to visit local doctors to spread the word that she is available to help their lymphedema patients.
“We can help alleviate a patient’s discomfort,” Meitner noted. “Most patients tell us they feel better with compression and other support.”
Meitner also mentioned Congress is considering the Lymphedema Treatment Act that would improve insurance coverage. For more information or to contact U.S. representatives and senators, visit www.lymphedematreatmentact.org.