Lymphedema, a common condition that causes chronic swelling of the limbs, presents an ongoing challenge for more than 1 million Americans. Lymphedema is uncomfortable and may cause pain. It can lead to permanent disfigurement and cause serious infections like cellulitis or, in rare instances, even
While lymphedema can occur anywhere in the body, it frequently occurs in the arms or legs.
Lymphedema is best known as an after-effect of breast cancer treatment; however, it can have a variety of causes, both traumatic and congenital. Lymphedema, an ongoing and degenerative condition, cannot be cured, but it can be managed.
Lymphedema’s swelling occurs when the lymphatic system does not drain as it should. The lymphatic system provides important protection from disease, including infection and cancer. One of the body’s three types of blood vessels (the other two are arteries and veins), lymph vessels form an intricate network, moving fluid from the tissues and organs into the veins. Scattered throughout this system are hundreds of lymph nodes, where white blood cells reside, helping the immune system fight infection by filtering dead bacteria, viruses and other tissue.
The experience of lymphedema can have significant physical and emotional impact on the lives of those who suffer from it. A discussion scheduled 7 p.m. April 24 at the main branch of Stanford Health Library will address new and emerging treatment for the condition. The lecture will feature Stanley Rockson, M.D., director of the Stanford Center for Lymphatic and Venous Disease, one of the premier lymphedema research and treatment centers. Rockson is a vascular medicine specialist with a special interest in the care of patients with lymphatic and venous disorders. The talk is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. To register, call 498-7826.
Rockson is co-editor of a comprehensive textbook that explores the challenge of lymphedema treatment. “Lymphedema: A Concise Compendium of Theory and Practice” (Springer, 2011) fills a gap in the literature as it describes guidelines for diagnosis and treatment of patients who suffer from many different types of lymphedema.
“Lymphedema” is clearly intended for clinical professionals but may be of interest to lay readers who want to know more and are willing to delve into challenging scientific writing.
Another excellent resource, also written for lymphedema specialists, is “Lymphedema Management: The Comprehensive Guide for Practitioners” (3rd ed., Thieme, 2013). “Lymphedema Management” is more of a how-to book intended for practicing therapists, but it’s also useful for those affected by the disorder. Full of color illustrations and photographs, the new edition offers expanded information covering a variety of therapies.
Beyond the science, treatment options and therapists, coping with lymphedema on your own at home can be difficult. Having a supportive and knowledgeable caregiver is important to successful lymphedema management.
A book that provides valuable assistance to caregivers is “Lymphedema Caregiver’s Guide: Arranging and Providing Home Care” (Lymph Notes, 2009).
Authors Mary Kathleen Kearse, Elizabeth McMahon and Ann Ehrlich are well-versed in treating and caring for those with lymphedema. They wrote the book to provide education and to compensate for a lack of supportive care in the homes of lymphedema patients. Providing limb compression therapy, a key component of lymphedema management, is an example of in-home treatment that is extremely difficult to accomplish on one’s own.
The book offers detailed descriptions, with text, diagrams and pictures, showing how family and friends can help with lymphedema care. Many lymphedema care skills are addressed, including skin care, lymph drainage, compression bandaging and decongestive exercises. Readers also learn how to manage supplies and equipment, evaluate care needs and support activities of daily living, including diet and nutrition. A chapter on caregiver self-care, often overlooked, is especially valuable.
The main branch of Stanford Health Library is located at Hoover Pavilion, 211 Quarry Road, Suite 201.
Nancy Dickenson is head librarian at Stanford Health Library. For more information, call 725-8400 or visit healthlibrary.stanford.edu.