American Society of Plastic Surgeons
For Medical Professionals

Lymphedema Treatment

Surgical Options

Lymphedema is a condition characterized by painful swelling in the extremities, which can be addressed with surgical treatment options.

Who is a good candidate for lymphedema surgery?

Lymphedema is a heterogeneous disease, and treatment plans are individualized for each patient based on the clinical stage of lymphedema and anatomical considerations. During initial consultation, your surgeon may perform standardized and repeated measurements of limb circumference and refer you to specialized diagnostic testing to assist in surgical planning.

Prior to surgical therapy, the various modalities of nonsurgical treatment must be maximized including proper use of compression stockings, adherence to physical therapy recommendations, exercise and weight loss. Complete decongestive therapy (CDT) has been the mainstay of initial management for lymphedema patients.

You may be a candidate for lymphedema surgery if:

  • You are able to cope well with your diagnosis and treatment
  • You do not have additional medical conditions or other illnesses that may impair healing
  • You have a positive outlook and realistic goals for restoring your extremity and body image
  • You have maximized all nonsurgical therapies for lymphedema

Although lymphedema surgery can improve the symptoms of lymphedema, the results are highly variable:

  • Visible incision lines will always be present on the extremity, depending on the type of procedure
  • Certain surgical techniques will leave incision lines at the donor site, commonly located in less exposed areas of the body such as the neck, abdomen or groin region


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