Lymphedema: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options
There is no pill that will prevent or correct lymphedema, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of lymphedema and to manage the condition.
The following are some ways for preventing flare ups, managing symptoms, and reducing your risk of developing lymphedema:
- Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) – a type of gentle skin massage that helps move lymphatic fluids. This is done by a lymphedema specialist and is typically covered by insurance.
- Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) – often considered the main treatment for lymphedema by the medical community, CDT is a multi-phase treatment that includes MLD, exercise, compression, and skin care, and should be performed by a therapist who specializes in lymphedema.
- Acupuncture – studies have shown acupuncture relieves pain and swelling from lymphedema. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and other energy approaches may help as well.
- Self-massage – There are ways to massage, or “milk” the lymphatics. Seek guidance from a qualified lymph specialist. There are also many resources available online.
- Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) – increases the movement of lymph, breaks down scar tissue, and brings relief from symptoms. Laser therapy was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006 for the treatment and management of lymphedema, but is still considered controversial by many as studies have been inconclusive. This treatment is best done by a health professional who specializes in lymphedema. Medical insurance typically pays for part of the cost of treatment.
- Hydrotherapy – the therapeutic use of water helps improve circulation and may reduce lymphedema symptoms. Exercise in a comfortable water temperature (not hot) for approximately 20 to 60 minutes. A hydrotherapy session with a lymphedema physiotherapist may be helpful for developing an exercise plan.
- Essential oils – concentrated oils from plants such as frankincense, myrrh, and ginger promote lymphatic movement. Essential oil of lemon, frankincense, and lavender help to dissolve petrochemicals and remove heavy metals so the body can eliminate them. Apply oils to the affected area twice a day, as well as to the bottom of the feet before bed. (Be careful as oils can be slippery, so do this bedside and right before retiring.) Only use the highest quality organic oils from a trusted source.
- Horse Chestnut – this herb may be useful with lymphedema, along with other herbs such as burdock root, red clover, and echinacea with or without goldenseal.
- Selenium has been helpful for those with head and neck cancers.
- Oregano oil supports the immune system and is helpful for digestive support. The terpenes in oregano oil help dissolve fatty sludge in the lymph system.
- Bromelain – a proteolytic (protein-digesting) enzyme found in pineapple stems that has anti-inflammatory, anticoagulant, and diuretic effects.
- Adding enzyme rich foods to meals such as pineapple, papaya, kiwi, avocado, raw honey, bee pollen, extra virgin olive oil, and coconut oil is healthy and can be helpful.
- Proteolytic enzymes – These facilitate the chemical breakdown of proteins and process material in the circulatory and lymph systems, essentially cleaning out the blood.
- Castor oil – helps to improve the lymphatic flow; it increases circulation of lymphatic fluids, reduces inflammation and improves digestion. Apply the oil to different parts of the skin; especially to the lower abdomen. Castor oil is a thick oil, and is best to apply before bed. Place a towel over your sheets or wear old pajamas.
- Cabbage leaf packs – Using cabbage leaf compresses for breast engorgement after childbirth dates back hundreds of years. Many have found this old, natural remedy brings relief from lymphedema swelling as well. Be sure to use clean, organic cabbage leaves and don’t use on broken or irritated skin.
- Detoxification and liver support – Efficient liver function is essential to the lymphatic system.
- Visualization – a form of meditation, visualization has been helpful for many. Sit comfortably, breath and visualize excess fluids draining from the body. This should only take five minutes.
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