Women's Health at NCH

Lymphedema

Lymphedema is the chronic swelling of a body part, most often in the arm or leg that can range from mild to severe. Normally, lymph nodes filter fluid as it flows through them, trapping bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances, which are then destroyed by special white blood cells called lymphocytes. Without normal lymph drainage, fluid can build up in the affected arm or leg, and lymphedema can develop.

Causes of lymphedema

  • It may be caused by surgery to remove lymph nodes, radiation therapy, injury to the lymph nodes, or if you get an infection or injury in the affected body part.
  • Anyone who has been treated for cancer with surgery and/or radiation may be at risk.
  • It can develop shortly after surgery, months or even years later. There is no time limit.

Lymphedema services are provided at NCH Outpatient Services in Rolling Meadows. Please speak with your doctor to see if this program is right for you. A physician’s order is needed to schedule an appointment. Call the Outpatient Center in Rolling Meadows at 847-618-3880.

NCH also offers Lymphedema support and educational services:

  • Oncology social worker, 847-618-6914
  • Breast Program Manager, 847-618-7431
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Detection & Diagnosis

Signs and symptoms of lymphedema can include:

  • Fullness under the arm
  • Tightness
  • Arm or leg feels full or heavy
  • Skin of the arm or leg feels tight
  • Less movement or flexibility in the hand, wrist or ankle
  • Difficulty fitting the arm or leg into clothing
  • Tight-fitting rings or watches, when you have not gained weight

Call your doctor:

  • If you notice any swelling, with or without pain that lasts longer than a few days
  • If any part of your affected limb or underarm feels hot, is red or has sudden swelling
  • If you develop a temperature over 100.5°F that is not related to the cold or flu
  • If you develop a rash or itching

These symptoms could signal an infection and may require antibiotics.

Early intervention can reverse symptoms. If left untreated, lymphedema may only be amendable to management of condition and not complete reversal.

Treatments
Treatment 1

Lymphedema Management Program at NCH

This program offers comprehensive and individualized care based on the Complex Decongestive Therapy that includes:

  • Education on lymphedema prevention and precautions
  • Education on the lymphatic system
  • Skin care and diet
  • Manual lymphatic drainage
  • Compression bandaging
  • Compression garments
  • Instructions in self-manual lymphatic drainage and self-bandaging
  • Individualized exercise programs, as needed
  • Lifelong maintenance plans
  • Flu care

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