La Revue de medecine interne

[Lymphedema: is there a treatment?].

PMID 1410875


More than hundred medical treatments for lymphedema have been described. This very high number shows the evidence of difficulties: lymphatics are very small vessels, under low pression and velocity respondent to spontaneous quiet lymphatic contractions. The treatments can be listed in 3 groups: 1) physiotherapeutic methods, increasing lymphatic flow: cold, field stimulation, manual lymph drainage, intermittent compression, heat; 2) drugs: venous agents (flavone, benzo-pyrone), and intraarterial lymphocytes injection, promoting lymphatic flow or increasing normal proteolysis by macrophages in order to remove trapped proteins from interstitial fluid; 3) surgical procedures subdivided in 2 groups: excisional techniques and bridging drainage techniques; radical or partial excision removes involved subcutaneous tissue, recently by the way of liposuction; Efforts to drain lymphedema by subcutaneous implants, pedical flaps, myocutaneous flaps, omental transposition and intestinal flaps are historical. Microsurgical lymphatic anastomosis to vein (nodo-venous then lymphovenous), and to lymphatic themselves are now performed: lymphatic collectors or venous autografts are interpositioned to by-pass lymphatic blockade with end-to end anastomosis. The free transplantation of a lymphatic flap with its own vascularisation from healthy inguinal nodes to axillary blockade is the last described procedure. Lymphatic anastomosis are not needed. Actually, physiotherapy is always first indicated. Benzo-pyrones are additive drugs. Excisional procedures concern monstruous lymphedema. Microsurgical bridging procedures can be attempted only for secondary lymphedemas. They could be of benefit if physiotherapy and elastic bandages, stockings or sleeves, could then be avoided. Studies assessing independently the efficiency of each procedure are needed.