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Approximately three million men, women and children in the United States suffer from lymphedema, a condition caused when the lymphatic system fails to function properly. Untreated, it can lead to severe pain or discomfort, poor wound healing, permanent skin changes, functional disability and cellulites – a skin infection which may require hospitalization.

Summa’s Lymphedema Program, which was established in 1997, is composed of a team of trained occupational and physical therapists specialized in providing comprehensive decongestive therapy (CDT), the latest in lymphedema treatment.

We have three locations for the treatment of lymphedema. The first is at the Jean and Milton Cooper Cancer Center, in which the clinicians specialize in the treatment of cancer related lymphedema. Contact them at (330) 375-7282. In addition, we have our location at St. Thomas Hospital, which specializes in the treatment of non-cancer related lymphedema. They can be reached at (330) 379-5200. The third is Summa Health Center at Anna Dean also treats lymphedema that often occurs after surgical intervention, trauma, radiation, infection, cancer or scarring. Content the center at (330) 615-5000.

What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is the accumulation of lymphatic fluid in a body compartment such as the arm, leg or trunk. It is caused by a person’s lymphatic system failing to work correctly and can lead to swelling in the affected area of the body. When working properly, the lymphatic system (as part of the immune system) removes debris, bacteria and excess protein from tissues in the body and produces lymphocytes to help the body fight harmful bacteria and infection. In lymphedema patients, this cleansing mechanism does not function.

Primary lymphedema develops for no determined reason. A child may be born with the condition, or it may develop later in life. This form of lymphedema is more common in women and generally affects the legs. Secondary lymphedema develops as a result of damage to the lymphatic system. This may be caused by trauma, surgery, radiation, cancer, infection or scarring.

What are the Symptoms?
Although Lymphedema generally affects the extremities, it can develop in any part of the body.

Warning signs of Lymphedema include:

  • A “full” or heavy sensation in the limbs
  • Tight feeling of the skin
  • Decreased flexibility in the hand, wrist, leg or ankle
  • Difficulty fitting into clothing in one specific area
  • Persistent swelling

Comprehensive Decongestive Therapy
Lymphedema Therapy

Comprehensive or complex decongestive therapy (CDT) originated in Europe in the 1940s. CDT is a painless procedure comprised of:

Compression bandaging, a unique method that incorporates special bandages, distinctive wrapping and applied pressure
Manual lymphatic drainage, a specialized type of massage designed to stimulate contraction of inactive lymphatic channels
An exercise regime coupled with patient education, which often includes family members being instructed in daily management techniques.

How Long does Therapy Last?
The duration depends on the severity of symptoms. Generally, treatments average one to three weeks in duration, although more severe cases may require a commitment of six months to one year. Initially, therapy is administered in 90-minute increments, Monday through Friday. As the condition is brought under control, the frequency of therapy may taper off. When possible, instruction is also provided to family members on CDT techniques to help the patient manage lymphedema on a day-to-day basis.