Lymphedema is a condition caused by swelling, typically in the arms and legs. It occurs when lymph, fluid that contains white blood cells, builds up in the body's soft tissues because of damage to the lymph system. 

Common causes of lymphedema are infection, cancer and scar tissue from radiation therapy or surgical removal of lymph nodes. 

The Lymphedema Therapy program at the George Washington University Hospital (GW) is an individualized program that offers comprehensive, research-based treatment. Certified therapists at GW Hospital have more than 135 hours of lymphedema education.

The program treats people with lymphedema resulting from a variety of conditions and also provides breast cancer pre- and postoperative evaluations, education, treatment and home exercise plans. 

Complete Decongestive Therapy

The lymphedema therapists at GW Hospital use complete decongestive therapy to help reduce swelling, restore mobility, prevent infection and improve quality of life. Therapy includes: 

  • Skin and nail care training

  • Compression garment fitting

  • Personalized self-care education 
  • Manual lymphatic drainage
  • Compression bandaging
  • Remedial exercise 

Throughout treatment, therapists give referring physicians regular patient status updates. The length of rehabilitation varies depending on factors such as:

  • Amount of swelling
  • Tissue texture of the skin
  • Patient compliance and response to treatment
  • Infection
  • Conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure