Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- Lymphedema facts
- What is lymphedema?
- What causes lymphedema?
- What are the symptoms of lymphedema?
- How is lymphedema diagnosed?
- What are possible treatments for lymphedema?
- What are complications of lymphedema?
- Can lymphedema be prevented?
- What is the prognosis for lymphedema?
- Where can one get help and support for lymphedema?
- Find a local Internist in your town
What are complications of lymphedema?
As noted before, secondary infections of the skin and underlying tissues can complicate lymphedema. Inflammation of the skin and connective tissues, known as cellulitis, and inflammation of the lymphatic vessels (lymphangitis) are common complications of lymphedema. Deep venous thrombosis (formation of blood clots in the deeper veins) is also a known complication of lymphedema. Impairment of functioning in the affected area and cosmetic issues are further complications of lymphedema.
Those who have had chronic, long-term lymphedema for more than 10 years have a 10% chance of developing a cancer of the lymphatic vessels known as lymphangiosarcoma. The cancer begins as a reddish or purplish lump visible on the skin and spreads rapidly. This is an aggressive cancer that is treated by amputation of the affected limb. Even with treatment, the prognosis is poor, with less than 10% of patients surviving after 5 years.
Can lymphedema be prevented?
Primary lymphedema cannot be prevented, but measures can be taken to reduce the risk of developing lymphedema if one is at risk for secondary lymphedema, such as after cancer surgery or radiation treatment.
The following steps may help reduce the risk of developing lymphedema in those at risk for secondary lymphedema:
- Keep the affected arm or leg elevated above the level of the heart, when possible.
- Avoid tight or constricting garments or jewelry (also avoid the use of blood pressure cuffs on an affected arm).
- Do not apply a heating pad to the affected area or use hot tubs, steam baths, etc.
- Keep the body adequately hydrated.
- Avoid heavy lifting and forceful activity with the affected limb; but normal, light activity is encouraged.
- Do not carry a heavy purse on an affected arm.
- Practice thorough and careful skin hygiene.
- Avoid insect bites and sunburns.
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