The Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery provides surgical procedures for extremity lymphedema. Lymphedema is a condition that develops due to the malfunction of the lymphatic system responsible for moving tissue fluid from the interstitium into the venous system of the body. The malfunction causes tissue fluid to accumulate in the soft tissues, with resultant limb swelling, inflammation, further destruction of the lymphatic channels, and chronic pathologic soft-tissue changes.
Lymphedema has no cure, but may be treated with nonsurgical and surgical therapies. Non-surgical treatments include limb elevation, compression garments, manual lymphatic drainage, and complete decongestive therapy which are effective for early-stage lymphedema. Our division works with UNC’s physical therapists who are lymphedema therapy-certified to provide these treatments
Surgical treatments are offered to patients who have had non-surgical treatments to improve their symptoms. Surgical procedures include lipodebulking, lymphovenous anastomosis/bypass, and vascularized lymph node transfer. Lipodebulking involves the removal of abnormal fluid, fat, and fibrous tissue from the affected limb. Lymphovenous anastomosis/bypass involves the diversion of lymph from one of the remaining working lymphatic channels in the limb into the venous system by connecting these lymphatic channels into nearby veins. Vascularized lymph node transfers are performed by harvesting dispensable lymph node pockets from other parts of the body and transferring to the affected limb to improve the lymph drainage.