Brett J Carroll, Dhruv Singhal

Advances in lymphedema: An under-recognized disease with a hopeful future for patients

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine

Lymphedema has traditionally been underappreciated by the healthcare community. Understanding of the underlying pathophysiology and treatments beyond compression have been limited until recently. Increased investigation has demonstrated the key role of inflammation and resultant fibrosis and adipose deposition leading to the clinical sequelae and associated reduction in quality of life with lymphedema. New imaging techniques including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), indocyanine green lymphography, and high-frequency ultrasound offer improved resolution and understanding of lymphatic anatomy and flow. Conservative therapy with compression, exercise, and weight loss remains the mainstay of therapy, but growing surgical options show promise. Physiologic procedures (lymphovenous anastomosis and vascularized lymph node transfers) improve lymphatic flow in the diseased limb and may reduce edema and the burden of compression. Debulking, primarily with liposuction to remove the adipose deposition that has accumulated, results in a dramatic decrease in limb girth in appropriately selected patients. Though early, there are also exciting developments of potential therapeutic targets tackling the underlying drivers of the disease. Multidisciplinary teams have developed to offer the full breadth of evaluation and current management, but the development of a greater understanding and availability of therapies is needed to ensure patients with lymphedema have greater opportunity for optimal care.

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