Lymphedema reversible if treated early?

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Question from Constance: Is arm lymphedema always reversible if treated early?
Answers - Nicole Stout I think at any stage of lymphedema there's an element of reversibility. We can soften the tissue and we can decongest the limb, especially at the early stages.
Jennifer Sabol, M.D., F.A.C.S. If I can make a comment, as a surgeon I usually tell patents that lymphedema is kind of like blowing up a latex balloon: the more you allow it to stretch out, the harder it is to get back to its original shape. That's why we try very hard to educate patients to look for signs of lymphedema so that we can start treatment early and hopefully get back to the original form of the arm as quickly as possible.
Kathryn Schmitz I don't know whether the person asking this question intended this thought to come up, but there is a possibility that with the answers that are being given, depending on how they're taken, some women may blame themselves for lymphedema – “Gee, why didn't I do something earlier?” I think there are probably women for whom it's inevitable that their arm is going to enlarge. There are women who, for reasons that are unknown, never do develop lymphedema even if they've had the same treatment. I want to be cautious in saying that it is always preventable, or that we can do a better job with it in every single case when caught early. However, I think that there is ample evidence at this time in the scientific literature that early detection and early treatment are clearly associated with a better outcome and a better clinical course, and that it is less likely if detected early and treated early that lymphedema will become severe. Even with that, there are some women for whom it's completely inevitable that they're going to have a large arm. I don't want anyone reading this thinking that they are to blame for it.

The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Preventing and Treating Arm Lymphedema featured Kathryn Schmitz, Ph.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S.M.,Nicole Stout, M.P.T. C.L.T.-L.A.N.A., and moderator Jennifer Sabol, M.D., F.A.S.C. answering your questions about ways to prevent and manage lymphedema.

Editor's Note: This conference took place in April 2008.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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