Lymphedema Treatment

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Lymphedema is the blockage of the body's lymph nodes, which causes lymphatic fluid to build up and swell a portion of the body. Lymph vessels collect fluid, including protein, water, fats, and other waste products from throughout the body and carry it to the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes filter out waste and recirculate lymphatic fluid through the body.

Lymphedema Treatment at UVA Health

At UVA Health, we can diagnose lymphedema by using these tests:

  • Ultrasound
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Lymphoscintigraphy

Compression stockings may ease your symptoms and keep the lymph fluid flowing. Your doctor may design an exercise program for you to help improve the movement of lymph fluid. They may also recommend massage therapy to improve the moment of lymph fluid. This is called manual lymph drainage. At UVA Health, we have experts who are certified in this technique.

Surgery is rarely used to treat lymphedema. Options may include:

  • Removal of abnormal lymph tissue
  • Liposuction
  • Transplant of normal lymph tissues to replace abnormal lymph tissue

Learn more about how our dedicated lymphedema specialists can help.

Get Checked Before Cancer Surgery

Before lymph node surgery, we can test your lymphatic system. Few places have this capability. With this noninvasive test, we'll see if you're at risk for lymphedema. And we'll work with you to help you avoid this condition, or keep it from getting worse.

Learn more about our extensive lymphedema care program.

How Did I Get Lymphedema?

A main cause is surgery or radiation treatment for certain cancers, especially breast and testicular cancer. Other risk factors include:

  • Skin infections
  • Infections from parasites
  • Trauma
  • Tumors
  • Burns
  • Being born without lymph nodes 

Symptoms of Lymphedema

You may have this condition if you experience:

  • Swelling, aching, weakness, redness, heaviness or tightness in the arms or legs
  • Reduced flexibility in the wrist or ankle
  • Tight-fitting rings or shoes