Lymphedema Worcester MA
Fallon Medical Center Cardio
Susan Lark, MD, is a women’s health expert and author of the alternative health newsletter Women’s Wellness Today.
Q. I’ve been suffering from lymphedema ever since my lumpectomy. What can I do to relieve the pain and swelling?
Luckily, there are several ways to relieve the painful arm and leg swelling caused by secondary, or acquired, lymphedema. This condition, which affects an estimated 3 million cancer survivors, occurs when lymph nodes are damaged or removed during surgery or radiation treatment causing lymph fluid to accumulate in the tissues.
Your lymph system is a network of nodes and vessels. The vessels carry lymph—a clear fluid that collects bacteria, viruses, and dead cells—throughout your body. The nodes strain out these impurities, which are then “gobbled up” by infection-fighting white blood cells. The nodes also work to maintain just enough water between cells so that the cells can exchange nutrients, wastes, and gases as needed. When these powerful little nodes are removed or damaged, lymph can accumulate in your tissues, causing the uncomfortable swelling we call lymphedema. This can lead to painful infections as well as skin folds, which are prime breeding grounds for fungi.
The standard treatment for lymphedema—and an important first step—is manual lymphatic drainage massage (MLD). It’s a gentle, carefully plotted routine that presses, strokes, stretches, and twists the tissues to encourage lymph to flow freely and eliminate waste products from your system. To find an MLD therapist, check the National Lymphedema Network’s website, lymphnet.org.
Once MLD has reduced swelling in your arms or legs, talk to your physician about getting fitted for a compression garment to help keep it down. These specially made garments provide just enough pressure to prevent the re-accumulation of fluids that leads to swelling.
Beyond MLD and compression garments, you can take several steps on your own to ease discomfort and help keep lymph fluid from building up in your extremities. First, avoid alcohol and caffeine, since both depress the system and make lymph flow less efficiently. Second, make sure to get enough of the following nutrients, which can improve lymphatic system function:
Diosmin is a bioflavonoid extracted from the peels of citrus fruits. It enhances lymph flow and circulation by increasing the strength and frequency of the lymph vessels’ contractions. Take 1,000 mg per day, along with 500 to 1,000 mg of diosmin’s cousin, hesperidin, a citrus flavonoid that improves capillary strength.
Bromelain is a natural diuretic and anti-inflammatory in pineapple that research shows may reduce lymphedema swelling. Take 350 to 450 mg twice each day on an empty stomach.
Horse-chestnut extract shows promise in alleviating lymphedema. Its active ingredient, aescin, reinforces connective tissues and vein tone and seals off small pores in your veins, strengthening them and reducing le...
Author: Susan Lark, MD
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