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Study Of 700 Referrals To A Lymphedema Program
Christopher L. Sudduth, Reid Maclellan, Arin K. Greene.
Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.

PURPOSE: Lymphedema results from inadequate lymphatic function due to failure of lymphatic development or injury to a functioning lymphatic system. Patients suffer enlargement of the affected area, psychosocial morbidity, infection, and functional disability. The purpose of this study was to characterize the disease in a cohort of patients referred to a specialized center.
METHODS: Our Lymphedema Program database was reviewed for all referrals between 2009 and 2019. Diagnosis was determined based on history, physical examination, and lymphoscintigraphy. Lymphedema type (primary, secondary, obesity-induced), location of swelling, morbidity, previous management, accuracy of referral diagnosis, the geographic origin of the patients, and treatment in our center were analyzed.
RESULTS: Seven hundred patients were referred with a diagnosis of “lymphedema”; 71% were female and 38% were children. Lymphedema was confirmed in 71% of the cohort: primary (62%), secondary (22%), obesity-induced (16%). Examples of referrals are presented in Figure 1. Twenty-nine percent of individuals labeled with “lymphedema” had another condition. One-half of patients had not received treatment, and 36% resided outside of our local referral area. One-third of subjects with lymphedema had an infection and 30% had >1 visit to the center. Patients with confirmed lymphedema were managed with compression stockings (100%), pneumatic compression (69%), and/or an excisional procedure (6%).
CONCLUSION: Patients with lymphedema typically are adequately managed with conservative compression therapies and rarely require excisional operations. Diagnostic confusion is common and individuals with possible lymphedema are best managed by physicians focused on the disease.


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