Lymphedema after breast augmentation surgery

Lymphedema after breast augmentation surgery

20th Dec 2016


Breast augmentation comes with risks. Most who undergo the surgical procedure don’t experience any side effect that can’t be temporary and easily remedied, but there are some patients who do. A complication that cannot go away on its own is lymphedema.

Lymphedema occurs as a result of a damaged or blocked lymphatic system. When this happens, swelling can occur in the affected areas. After a breast augmentation surgery, lymphedema after swelling can be observed in the upper chest and the arms.

In order to provide treatment before a more severe consequence happens, it is important to diagnose lymphedema as soon as possible. There are many cases of lymphedema which are not diagnosed or reported because the signs and symptoms are not immediately identified.

There is actually no cure for lymphedema but with several treatments, but such as manual lymph drainage, compression therapy, skin care, pneumatic compression, elevation, and complete decongestive therapy (CDT) it is manageable.


Signs and Symptoms of Lymphedema

After your breast augmentation surgery, it is important to be observant and be sensitive to the changes to your body. Being able to diagnose lymphedema as early as possible helps increase the chance of reversing it. Here are a few things which the patient should note :

– Clothing or jewelry may seem tighter than usual

– Your arms may not look as symmetrical as before

– Tendons and veins in your arms may be less palpable or visible

– Skin looks reddish

– Movement of the joints is reduced and more difficult


Cure for Lymphedema

Lymphedema that is mild or in the first stage can still be reversed, because the soft tissues in the area are not yet damaged. This is why it is very important to diagnose lymphedema immediately. Although it is possible to reverse the effects with treatment, there is still a possibility that lymphedema can worsen.

If lymphedema has caused damage to the soft tissue, it can’t be reversed completely but treatments can be used to manage the condition. With regular treatments, an improved feeling of the areas affected will be felt.


Treatments for Lymphedema

There are different treatments that you can do to manage lymphedema. Some of these treatments will require a therapist, while the others can be done on your own.

– Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD): Manual lymphatic drainage is a light massage that aims to move the excess fluid towards the area where the lymphatic system is normally working. This reduces swelling. This massage should only be done by a trained professional. After the massage, it is possible that the area will be bandaged or compressed to help decrease the swelling. For areas without swelling, the therapist can teach you how to perform proper massage. In the areas of swelling, you can massage the surrounding areas to help ease the movement of the lymph fluid.

– Compression Therapy: There is a wide range of sleeves and garments that can be used for compression therapy. These are made of elastic fabric that can apply pressure to the trunk or the arm area to help promote lymph fluid movement. To direct the flow of the fluid, one end is tighter than the other. This will lead the lymph fluid to go towards the other end of the garment.

– Exercise: Contrary to what most people believed in the past, recent studies have shown that exercise can help in reducing lymphedema. When conducting exercises, it is important to make sure that the area where the lymphedema occurs does not become stressed. An experienced lymphedema therapist can oversee the exercise session. It is also suggested to wear compression garments while exercising, or to make necessary modifications to the exercise routine.

– Skin Care: In order to help prevent complications such as cellulitis or lymphangitis, those who have lymphedema should be hygienic and should know how to care properly for their skin. Regular cleansing of the skin and drying it thoroughly helps prevent bacteria and other debris from being present. Without them, you lessen the risk of cellulitis or lymphangitis from occurring.

– Pneumatic Compression: To induce the movement of the lymph fluid, a sleeve that is connected to a pump can be worn over your arm. To help the fluid to move out of the compressed area, the pump is used to produce pressure in intervals.

– Elevation: Raising the arm helps to reduce the swelling. The arm should be raised above the heart, but should also be supported and in a comfortable position.


Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT)

Complete decongestive therapy is the combination of the different treatments for lymphedema. It is known as the “gold standard” treatment and is done through the help of a professional. CDT is made up of two phases, the initial reductive phase, and the maintenance phase.

The first phase focuses on reducing the swelling, and the second phase prioritizes maintaining of the small size. Phase I is usually done by the therapist. Phase II is done by the one who has lymphedema.



The risk of having lymphedema after breast augmentation is a possibility, although not all cases are reported. The diagnosis can be a bit tricky, but the early diagnosis does allow for a better prognosis. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms associated with lymphedema so that you can immediately report it to your doctor.

Lymphedema that is still mild or in the early stages can still be reversed, but there is also a chance it may worsen. Although there is no cure yet for lymphedema, treatments such as lymph drainage, compression therapy, skin care, pneumatic compression, and elevation can help in its management.

Complete decongestive therapy is the most common treatment advised for those who have lymphedema. Together with the therapist, the patient undergoes treatment to help decrease the swelling and to prevent lymphedema from flaring up. With proper planning and regular treatments, lymphedema can be managed.


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