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Lymphedema is a swelling in the arm or legs. Typically, this swelling will occur in one arm or one leg, although both arms or both legs might be affected at the same time. Lymphedema pumps are one of the methods used to treat lymphedema. These machines are pneumatic compression pumps that move fluids away from the swollen areas.
The swelling associated with lymphedema is caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system. A lymphatic system includes fluid, called lymph, that moves proteins and fats throughout the body for nutrition and assists in removing wastes and harmful bacteria and viruses from the body. Swelling occurs when lymph is unable to flow or drain as effectively as it should.
Patients who have lymphedema may experience swelling that ranges from part of a limb to the complete swelling of the arm or leg, including the fingers or toes. A patient may not have a full range of motion due to this swelling. Other symptoms of lymphedema can include thickening of the skin in the affected area, a feeling of heaviness in the affected area, and repeated infections in the affected area.
While there are no cures for lymphedema, the condition should still be treated. If left untreated, lymphedema can become more serious, resulting in infections of the skin or the lymph vessels. Another possible complication is lymphangiosarcoma — a soft tissue cancer.
Lymphedema pumps are one treatment option. These compression pumps work by applying pressure on the affected area to move fluids away from the toes and fingers. Lymphedema pumps also reduce overall swelling.
Other lymphedema treatment options include massage designed to increase lymph drainage, or wearing compression sleeves or stockings. These compression garments are also used to help prevent future swelling. In addition, light exercise that involves flexing the muscles in the swollen area can help. Another option is to bandage the entire arm or leg, with the bandage being tighter closest to the fingers or toes and progressively looser as the bandage moves up the limb.
Sometimes several of these treatments are combined. For example, lymphedema pumps might be combined with the appropriate exercises and massage. The combined therapies are called complete decongestant therapy (CDT). CDT may be more effective than using just one type of therapy.
If the lymphedema is severe and other treatment methods have not been effective, surgery may be required. This type of surgery involves removing tissues from the area where swelling occurs. Although surgery will not cure lymphedema, surgery can reduce swelling caused by this condition.
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