Lymphedema and lymphatic disorders refer to diseases that affect the lymphatic system — the network of tissues, vessels, and organs that move a specific fluid called lymph throughout the body. They occur when the lymphatic system is damaged or blocked, preventing lymph from circulating normally.
Left untreated, these disorders can cause pain, itching, swelling, and other complications such as skin infections.
Treatment for lymphedema and lymphatic disorders will depend on your diagnosis, stage of lymphedema, and related medical problems. Treatment may include manual lymphatic therapies, compression bandaging, therapeutic exercise, compression garments pneumatic pumps, dietary management, or surgery.
Conditions we treat
The most common lymphatic disease is lymphedema. It is swelling of a body part caused by a lymphatic fluid buildup in the tissues. Lymphedema most often occurs in the arms and legs, but it can also affect the head, chest, breast, abdomen, and genitals. Lymphedema occurs when a blocked or damaged lymphatic system causes fluid to build up in the limbs, and lymph can’t flow through the body as normal. Lymphedema is the most common lymphatic and venous disorder.
Depending on your diagnosis, you may require treatment from:
- physical and occupational therapists
- physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists
- a team dedicated to treating cancer-related lymphedema
Lipedema causes excess fat to collect in the lower half of the body, primarily in the buttocks, thighs, and calves. It mainly affects women and typically runs in families.
Other lymphatic and venous disorders include:
A type of lymphedema, podoconiosis results from prolonged exposure to mineral deposits found in the red clay soils of volcanic rock. Commonly found in tropical regions, this chronic inflammatory skin disease usually starts in the foot and progresses up the leg to the knee. It is different than lymphatic filariasis (LF) through being ascending and commonly bilateral, but asymmetric.
A rare bone disorder, Gorham’s disease develops when blood vessels grow out of control and destroy bone. Most commonly, it affects bones in the shoulder and pelvis.
This disorder develops when the lymph vessels that supply fluid to the lining of the small intestine form abnormally and block lymph fluid in the intestines. It can lead to edema, or the retention of fluid, which causes a swollen abdomen and fluid collection around the lungs.
A rare lung disease, LAM causes abnormal muscle-like cells to grow and spread through lung tissue and the lymphatic system. This condition leads to blocked lung airways, lymph vessels, and blood vessels — and the lungs’ inability to distribute oxygen to the body.
This disease occurs when many tumors or cysts, called lymphangiomas, grow in the body’s lymphatic system. Although the tumors are benign, or noncancerous, they invade body tissue and compress other structures. These tumors most commonly grow in the bones, connective tissue, and organs.
PLE refers to an excessive loss of proteins into the intestine, leading to unusually low protein levels in the blood. PLE is associated with other disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and cardiac disease. It occurs when lymph does not flow normally through the body.
Care and treatment of lymphatic disorders
Treatment for lymphatic disorders will depend on your diagnosis, but options include:
Complete decongestion therapy (CDT)
The University of Miami Health System has developed a specialized rehabilitation program to help patients with lymphedema. CDT includes a range of treatments designed to stimulate the flow of lymph, reduce the risk of infection, and decrease fluid buildup.
One type of CDT is manual lymph drainage (MLD). A gentle massage technique, MLD helps move the lymph fluid out of the swollen extremity, such as an arm or leg. A specialist then applies a short-stretch compression bandage to the affected limb to prevent the fluid from re-collecting. Our team of certified lymphatic specialists will help you develop a home lymphatic program, including therapuetic exercise, and choose the correct compression garments to maintain the reduction of arm and leg swelling.
Specialists apply short-stretch bandages to an affected area to provide pressure and reduce fluid buildup.
Also known as shave surgery, doctors may use this treatment to remove fibrous, or damaged, tissue caused by lymphedema.
A common type of cosmetic surgery called liposuction may be used to remove fat cells that can be stimulated to grow when fluid spreads into tissue.
In this innovative treatment, specialized microsurgery techniques create a new path for lymph fluid to move through the body. This procedure helps reduce swelling, improve function and range of motion, and drain fluid more efficiently.
As a treatment for lymphedema, pneumatic pumps use air to inflate a sleeve that encases the affected area. The sleeve has multiple chambers that inflate one after the other to prompt fluid to flow in the right direction.
Vascularized lymph node transplant
In this advanced microsurgical treatment for lymphedema, a surgeon moves lymph nodes from one area of the body to an area where they have been removed. The newly placed lymph nodes help improve the flow of fluid and reduce swelling, tightness, and pain.
Why Choose Us?
The only comprehensive lymphedema program in South Florida. As one of only three lymphedema surgery programs in Florida, we offer innovative techniques to prevent and treat this condition. We take a collaborative approach to provide you individualized lymphedema care. Our cancer rehabilitation medicine specialists offer holistic care to improve your function and overall well-being. You won’t find this specialty care anywhere else in South Florida.
Fellowship-trained, highly-specialized surgeons. The plastic and reconstructive surgeons at the University of Miami Health System Lymphatic Surgery program have extensive fellowship training in microsurgery, the type of surgery required to treat lymphedema.
Multidisciplinary care, all in one place. The Lymphatic Surgery team is part of the multidisciplinary care you can receive at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and UHealth. All of your physicians and providers, from your oncologist to your physical therapist, your surgeon to your dietitian, work together to improve your quality of life.
Teaching the next generation of health care providers. As an academic program, our physicians train the next generation of doctors and providers in many different specialties to offer high-quality care for lymphedema and lymphatic disorders. With more providers experienced in lymphedema care, patients can get the treatment they need, when they need it.
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