Some people with MS may develop lymphedema, a condition characterized by fluid accumulation in the arms and legs. Managing lymphedema requires a comprehensive approach that may include exercise, massage, compression garments, and in severe cases, surgery.

Lymphedema can arise due to lymphatic system changes, which impact fluid regulation in the body. The resulting swelling can limit mobility and affect a person’s daily activities.

Generally, the available treatment options for lymphedema in MS patients focus on implementing strategies to help alleviate symptoms, dealing with challenges associated with lymphedema, and improving quality of life. Often multiple treatment methods may be necessary.

This article explores the treatment options available for lymphedema in individuals with MS, focusing on strategies to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.

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The goals of treatment for lymphedema center around effectively managing and reducing symptoms. The primary objectives include:

  • Managing swelling: The primary aim of treatment is to reduce and manage swelling. This involves implementing various techniques and interventions to promote the drainage of excess fluid and improve circulation in the affected areas.
  • Improving mobility and function: Lymphedema can limit mobility and affect daily activities. Treatment aims to enhance mobility and function by reducing swelling, increasing range of motion, and improving overall physical function. This may involve exercises, manual lymphatic drainage, and other therapeutic techniques.
  • Preventing complications: Lymphedema can lead to infections and skin problems. The treatment focuses on preventing these complications through proper hygiene, skin care, and preventive measures. Education about self-care and awareness of potential risks is integral to the treatment process.
  • Enhancing quality of life: The overall goal of treatment for lymphedema in individuals with MS is to improve their quality of life. This involves addressing not only the physical aspects of lymphedema but also the emotional and psychosocial impact it may have. Supportive care, counseling, and education are crucial in improving overall well-being and coping with the challenges of living with lymphedema.

See here for a guide on treating lymphedema.

Exercise plays a crucial role in lymphedema treatment.

Engaging in specific exercises and movements can help promote lymphatic drainage. For example, moving the swollen arm or leg can stimulate the muscles and encourage the flow of lymph fluid, reducing swelling and improving overall function.

Healthcare professionals may recommend tailored exercise programs focusing on gentle, repetitive movements and incorporating resistance training to enhance muscle strength and promote circulation.

See here for some exercises for MS to try safely.

Compression garments are another essential component of lymphedema treatment. These specially designed garments fit snugly around the swollen arm or leg, exerting pressure in the area and supporting the lymphatic system.

By applying external pressure, compression garments assist in the movement of lymph fluid, preventing its accumulation and promoting proper drainage.

A person can buy these garments in various styles, including sleeves, stockings, and bandages. They are custom fitted to ensure optimal effectiveness.

See here for more information on compression sleeves for lymphedema.

Massage therapy — specifically manual lymph drainage — can benefit individuals with lymphedema.

This specialized massage technique involves gentle, rhythmic strokes and movements that stimulate the lymphatic system, promoting the flow of lymph fluid and reducing swelling. Also, this therapy type helps redirect the fluid away from the swollen area and toward healthier lymphatic pathways, supporting the body’s natural drainage process.

See here for more information on lymphatic drainage massage.

In people who are overweight or have obesity, losing weight can help alleviate lymphedema symptoms by reducing the added stress on the lymphatic system. Reducing and maintaining a moderate body weight can generally help reduce swelling and improve lymphatic function.

See here for tips on weight loss.

A pneumatic pump is a mechanical device that aids in lymphatic drainage. It consists of a sleeve or garment that is inflated and deflated rhythmically, creating a pumping effect on the swollen limb.

The intermittent compression provided by the pneumatic pump helps to move lymph fluid, reducing swelling and improving circulation.

A person can use this therapy with other treatment methods. It may also be helpful for people with moderate to severe lymphedema.

Surgery may help severe cases of lymphedema that do not respond to conservative treatments.

Various surgical options exist, including:

  • Lymphaticovenous anastomosis (LVA): LVA involves connecting lymphatic vessels to nearby veins, bypassing areas of blockage, and allowing for improved drainage.
  • Vascularized lymph node transfer (VLNT): VLNT involves transferring lymph nodes from one part of the body to the affected area to enhance lymphatic function.
  • Suction-assisted protein lipectomy (SAPL): Effective in later stages of lymphedema. It removes lymphatic solids and fatty deposits in people who are not good candidates for other therapies.

Surgical interventions are typically considered a last resort when other treatments have been unsuccessful.

Below are some common questions on the topic:

What is the most effective treatment for lymphedema?

The most effective treatment for lymphedema depends on the individual and often involves a combination of therapies tailored to their needs.

The primary treatment for moderate to severe lymphedema is decongestive Lymphedema Therapy (DLT). DLT combines manual lymphatic drainage, compression therapy, exercise, and skin care to reduce swelling and improve symptoms.

A personalized treatment plan should be developed in collaboration with a healthcare professional experienced in lymphedema management, considering the severity of the condition and individual health factors.

Does lymphedema ever go away?

In the early stages of lymphedema, it may resolve with treatment. However, once lymphedema reaches more advanced stages and the lymphatic system is damaged, it cannot be fully cured or repaired.

It is important to note that although lymphedema cannot be cured, its symptoms can be effectively managed with appropriate treatment and self-care measures.

Lymphedema is a condition that can affect individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS), leading to swelling and fluid buildup in the arms or legs.

Managing lymphedema requires a comprehensive approach that may include a combination of exercise, compression garments, massage therapy, pneumatic pumps, weight loss, and in severe cases, surgery.

Decongestive lymphedema therapy (DLT) is a primary treatment option for moderate to severe lymphedema. It aims to stimulate the lymphatic system and relieve the swelling or other symptoms that may present with lymphedema.

While there is currently no cure for lymphedema, various treatment methods can help alleviate symptoms, improve lymph flow, and enhance overall quality of life.