Using microsurgery techniques to relieve heavy, swollen limbs in patients with lymphedema
Dr. Kyle Xu, SLUCare plastic surgeon, is among the first in the Midwest to offer microsurgery options for patients with lymphedema.
The lymphatic system has an important job: It transports infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the body. When a person is born with a faulty lymph system or their lymph nodes have been compromised due to surgery or radiation, the system may not move lymph fluid through the body as it should. This may cause a backup of fluid in the limbs and lead to a condition called lymphedema.
Lymphedema is a chronic, progressive condition that produces swelling and inflammation in limbs that cannot properly circulate lymphatic fluid. Over time, fat and scar tissue may form, creating an oversized limb that can be painful and difficult to manage. Tasks such as combing hair, buttoning a shirt, or finding clothes that fit can become cumbersome.
Traditional Lymphedema Treatments are Time Consuming
Most often, treatment for lymphedema includes compression of the affected limb, lymphatic therapy, massage, and use of a mechanical pump to promote lymph fluid circulation. Skin care is also essential. Managing these treatments can take 40-70 hours per week. And for some patients, the benefits can taper off over time, offering no additional relief from symptoms.
Microsurgery Gives Lymphedema Patients an Alternative
SLUCare plastic surgeon Dr. Kyle Xu specializes in microsurgery techniques, connecting the tiniest vessels in the human body – less than a millimeter in diameter – with stitches thinner than eyelashes. Through microsurgery, Dr. Xu is able to offer surgical solutions for patients suffering from lymphedema.
Lymphovenous bypass is a surgery that redistributes fluid from the lymphatic system into the veins, reducing pressure and swelling in the limbs. It is most successful in patients with early stage lymphedema, before fat and scar tissue set in.
Vascularized lymph node transplant is a procedure in which Dr. Xu moves functioning lymph nodes from one area of the body to another, replacing lymph nodes that no longer work. This operation helps the body pump lymphatic fluid effectively, reducing swelling and pressure in the limbs. It is appropriate for patients whose lymphedema is more advanced, where fat deposits and scar tissue have set in. A follow-up procedure – liposuction – may be recommended.
Liposuction – Following lymphovenous bypass or lymph node transplant, it may still be necessary to remove fat from the limb to restore it to a more natural size. Liposuction helps the patient achieve a more balanced appearance, improving function and quality of life.
Lymphedema preventative surgery is a procedure that decreases the risk of developing lymphedema after breast cancer treatment. It is a bypass that is performed at the same time as the breast cancer surgery to reroute damaged lymph channels, allowing proper drainage of the arm.
How Does Microsurgery Improve Outcomes for Lymphedema Patients?
- Relieves swelling and inflammation when traditional therapies are no longer effective.
- Reduces time spent managing lymphedema.
- Promotes healthier skin and tissue of the affected limb.
- Slows or stops the progression of lymphedema to more advanced stages.
- Restores the limb to a more natural size, enhancing appearance and comfort in clothing.
- Improves confidence and quality of life.
Meet Our Lymphedema Surgeon
Dr. Kyle Xu is a Jesuit-educated physician who trained at San Francisco’s Buncke Clinic – a world leader in reconstructive plastic surgery and microsurgery techniques. He is one of the few in the Midwest to offer microsurgery for both primary lymphedema (patients born with a lymph system problem) and secondary lymphedema (patients who developed lymphedema following surgery, radiation or injury to the lymphatic system).
For a consultation with Dr. Xu, call 314-977-6051.