9th July 2013 – Lymphoedema service launches self-referral

Posted on July 9, 2013 by AireAdmin

Patients who have chronic swelling due to problems with their lymph drainage system can now directly contact the service which can help them.

The lymphoedema service run by nurses at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust has just had its contract renewed for a further three years to care for patients in Airedale, Bradford and Wharfedale and has launched a new self-referral service.

The team is also keen to help patients at risk of developing lymphoedema or chronic oedema to provide them with information about how they can prevent or minimise swelling by catching the problem early.

Lymphoedemia and chronic oedema mainly affects arms and legs but can affect other parts of the body including the head and neck and develops because of a build-up of fluid in the body’s tissues. For some people it can be very distressing especially if it restricts their mobility. It is a long-term progressive condition that can be controlled, particularly when detected early, but may require life-long treatment.

People at risk of lymphoedema have had:

  • surgery or radiotherapy affecting their lymph nodes.
  • surgery such as hip or knee replacements or varicose vein stripping.
  • damage to their skin or tissues caused by accidents, burns or blood clots
  • cellulitis or infection of their legs
  • family history of developing swelling.

More people who are overweight and have poor mobility are developing the condition which is a growing concern to the team. Without help from the lymphoedema service, patients could suffer from skin breakdown, leg ulcers, recurrent cellulitis – which is a skin infection.

Pat Gardner, lead lymphoedema nurse practitioner at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Some people are born with an insufficient lymphatic system and this can run in families.

“However, most people at risk of developing lymphoedema are those who have had treatment for cancer, although any surgery or trauma that damages lymphatic drainage can also put a person at risk

“We would like to inform people about their risk of developing lymphoedema so they can try to prevent it. Our role is to teach patients how to manage their own condition with a daily routine.

“Although we cannot cure the condition we can help patients to greatly improve and control oedema over time making a difference to the quality of lives of our patients”

The small team of six hold weekly clinics at Westbourne Green Health Centre, Undercliffe Health Centre and Canalside Health Centre in Bingley and a monthly clinic at Coronation Hospital at Ilkley.

Mrs Louise Smith, aged 43, of Bingley, has had lymphoedema in her right leg for the past six years and has to be careful not to bang her leg. She wears support stocking and has learned how to massage and moisturise it regularly.

She said: “The team are very approachable and caring and their service is tailored very much to suit the needs of the patient. I normally have check –ups every three to six months, but have been seen more often recently as I developed an infection.”

Pat Ferguson, aged 60, of Keighley, was referred to the service by her consultant last October after having an operation due to breast cancer and both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She has oedema in her left breast and arm and is undergoing intensive manual lymphatic drainage and laser treatment.

She said: “This is my sixth session and the treatment is now working. It’s been a marvellous service and has made me feel so much better. You can talk to them about absolutely anything and they seem to understand.”

Oedema can affect people at any age including children, although most of the patients in the service are aged over 60 years and some have complex health problems. Each patient has an individual assessment and specialist nurse Pat Gardner and her team look closely at the patient’s whole history – including their medication, current level of social care, responsibilities in the home, and entitlement to benefits.

Treatment is mainly a self-care programme involving skin care promoting hygiene to reduce the risk of infection; exercise to propel lymph fluid and improve mobility; and massage to enhance drainage and compression, usually in the form of stockings and arm sleeves. Treatment may also include a course of bandaging and manual lymphatic drainage if needed.

Anyone who has any swelling, particularly in their arms or legs or are in one of the ‘at risk’ categories can get advice from the team. Please contact the team on tel: 01535 292712.

The Lymphoedema Support Network is a national organisation providing advice, leaflets and a newsletter.

Contact them on 020 7351 4480 or go on their website www.lymphoedema.org/lsn.