Patients who have been through a mastectomy and had their axillary lymph nodes removed often suffer from lymphedema, a condition which involves swelling in an area of the body where there are no longer lymph nodes to remove fluid from that extremity. In the case of a mastectomy, the patient generally experiences swelling of the hand and arm in the affected side.
Lymphedema is a chronic and lifelong condition. It can be treated using compression sleeves and massage, but these methods don’t always work for everyone, and they’re far from permanent fixes. Instead, they need to be performed for the rest of the person’s life.
Lymphedema can be painful and embarrassing. Sometimes massage and compression sleeves are not enough to keep the swelling down. Often, patients have trouble finding clothing that fits them well if they have a very swollen arm, and they receive unwanted stares from strangers who don’t know about the condition.
In an effort to combat lymphedema, surgeons have developed a couple of different surgeries to help the body get rid of fluid by other means. One of these procedures is called lymphaticovenular bypass surgery, a procedure which involves the rerouting of certain vessels that carry fluid to the lymph nodes so that the fluid has a new place to go, eliminating backups.
During lymphaticovenular bypass surgery, also known as lymphovenous bypass, your surgical team will make several small incisions in the affected limb. They will use microscopes to help them see as they carefully choose the lymph vessels that need to be rerouted, cut them, and attach them directly to blood vessels so that the fluid can be eliminated from the body directly through the bloodstream.
After surgery, patients should continue to wear compression sleeves as normal and perform self-massage to help keep swelling down. Some patients will start seeing results within a few days, while others may take a few weeks.
Your lymphedema doesn’t have to control your life. Check out the video below to learn more about how lymphaticovenular bypass surgery works.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?