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Positive Stemmer’s sign yields a definitive lymphedema diagnosis in 10 seconds or less

By Robyn Bjork, MPT, CWS, WCC, CLT-LANA

In a busy wound clinic, quick and accurate differential diagnosis of edema is essential to appropriate treatment or referral for comprehensive care. According to a 2010 article in American Family Physician, 80% of lower extremity ulcers result from chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). In 2007, the German Bonn Vein Study found 100% of participants with active venous ulcers also had a positive Stemmer’s sign, indicating lymphedema. (more…)

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Bedside ankle-brachial index testing: Time-saving tips

By Robyn Bjork, MPT, CWS, WCC, CLT-LANA

A hot flush of embarrassment creates a bead of sweat on my forehead. “I’ve got to get this measurement,” I plead to myself. One glance at the clock tells me this bedside ankle-brachial index (ABI) procedure has already taken more than 30 minutes. My stomach sinks as I realize I’ll have to abandon the test as inconclusive. (more…)

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Lymphedema 101 – Part 2: Treatment

By Steve Norton, CDT, CLT-LANA

Editor’s note: Part 1 of this series, published in the September-October issue, discussed lymphedema pathology and diagnosis. This article, Part 2, covers treatment.

Traditional treatment approaches

Traditionally, lymphedema treatment has been approached without a clear understanding of the underlying structure and function of lymphatic tissues. Ineffective traditional treatments include elevation, elastic garments, pneumatic pumps, surgery, diuretics, and benzopyrones (such as warfarin). Because many traditional treatments are still overused and some may be appropriate for limited use, it’s important for clinicians to understand these approaches.


As a sole therapy for lymphedema, elevation of the affected part provides only short-lived results. Ever-increasing macromolecular wastes retain water against the effects of gravity. Increased interstitial colloid osmotic pressure must be addressed by interventions targeted at improving lymphatic function—not just a position change. Otherwise, lymphedema will progress. Furthermore, elevation alone is impractical, promotes deconditioning, and alters lifestyle for prolonged periods.

Elastic garments

Elastic garments prove inadequate because they attempt to treat lymphedema with compression alone. Medically correct garments are engineered with thoughtful attention to high-quality textiles and offer gradient support, which promotes proximal flow. However, without precise tissue stimulation leading to improved lymphangioactivity (lymph-vessel pulsation), macromolecular wastes can’t be removed.
Interstitial pressure increases caused by compression garments impede further fluid accumulation. When these garments are removed, the spontaneous girth increase causes an imprecise fit, and the garment rapidly leads to a countertherapeutic effect. Furthermore, compression garments don’t combat the osmotic forces generated by ever-increasing interstitial wastes. Except in patients diagnosed with stage 0 or stage 1 lymphedema, disease progression involving metaplasia ensues. Although elastic compression garments are a cornerstone of long-term management, they shouldn’t be used as a stand-alone treatment.

Pneumatic compression pump

Formerly, the pneumatic compression pump (PCP) was considered the standard of care for lymphedema. However, when inflated, the pump doesn’t increase the frequency of lymph-vessel contraction or enhance lymph capillary absorption. What’s more, accelerated fibrosis development and rapid tissue refilling occur when a PCP is removed. Also, PCP use disregards the ipsilateral territory of the excised regional nodes, effectively dumping fluid from the leg into the trunk. A PCP is appropriate only when nothing else is available, as it may worsen the patient’s condition.


Surgical approaches to treating lymphedema involve either excisional (debulking) or microsurgical techniques. The most extensive surgical technique, the radical Charles procedure, completely debulks all involved tissue down to the muscle fascia. Split-thickness grafts are then harvested from excised skin and donor sites, and applied to the fascia to achieve so-called limb reduction.
Most debulking procedures have been applied to lower-extremity lymphedema and offer poor cosmetic results. Less radical surgeries favor long incisions, preserving the skin but excising subcutaneous edematous portions to reduce girth. Although less cosmetically alarming, these procedures effectively amputate the subcutaneous space where lymph vessels reside. Other surgical approaches are beyond the scope of this article.
Generally, surgery isn’t a good approach for any patient, as it’s linked to significant morbidity, such as skin necrosis, infection, and sensory changes. In the future, less invasive procedures may be available that yield significant improvement without these adverse effects.


Although diuretics are prescribed appropriately to address water-rich edemas of venous origin, they disregard the fact that lymphedema is a protein-rich edema. Long-term, high-dose diuretic therapy leads to treatment-resistant limbs, similar to those that have received intensive pneumatic compression.


Benzopyrones such as warfarin decrease swelling by combating protein accumulation in fluid. Such drugs have undergone clinical trials abroad. Their mechanism is to promote macrophage migration into interstitial fluid, as well as subsequent proteolysis. Due to significant risk of liver damage or failure, benzopyrones haven’t been approved for treating lymphedema.

Complete decongestive therapy: The current treatment approach

Currently, the gold standard for lymphedema treatment is complete decongestive therapy (CDT). Michael Foeldi and Etelka Foeldi, who originated this method, discovered a unique symbiotic relationship among five distinct modalities that addresses the challenges of lymphedema treatment. In 1989, CDT was brought to the United States by Robert Lerner and has become the mainstay of lymphedema treatment here.
CDT is a two-phase approach involving an intensive clinical effort followed by a semi-intensive home-care program geared toward autonomous management, stabilization, and continual improvement. It involves manual lymph drainage (MLD), compression bandaging, exercise, skin and nail hygiene, and self-care education. (See Phases of complete decongestive therapy by clicking the PDF icon above.)

Manual lymph drainage

A type of soft-tissue mobilization, MLD provides skin traction, stimulating superficial lymph vessels and nodes. Lymph capillaries contain large inter-endothelial inlets called swinging tips, akin to overlapping shingles. Each overlapping cell is tethered to the interstitial matrix by anchoring filaments, so that fluid increases cause immediate distention and lymph inflow. Manual skin traction using MLD promotes greater lymph fluid uptake by stretching these filamentous structures, opening the swinging tips.
MLD also provides extrinsic stimulation of the lymphangion (the segment of a lymph vessel between a distal and proximal valve), drawing fluid into the system at the capillary level and promoting flow at the vessel level toward regional lymph nodes. Usually, these segments contract and relax in a rhythmic fashion six times per minute. MLD triples this output to 18 or 20 times per minute, greatly enhancing systemic transport.
MLD requires intensive daily treatment sessions to strengthen collateral flow as a pathway to circumventing surgical or developmental lymphatic disruption. Treatment strategies further recruit more deeply situated lymphatics such as the thoracic duct, as well as lumbar trunks that empty at the juncture of the internal jugular and subclavian veins to improve global uptake. MLD thus stimulates deeper vessel angioactivity to help drain the superficial vessels that drain toward them.

Compression bandaging

Compression bandaging provides tissue support after MLD to prevent reflux, slow new fluid formation, and mechanically soften fibrotic areas. Bandaging techniques provide a high working pressure to harness the muscle and joint pumps as a propellant for lymph while resisting retrograde flow created by gravity and centrifugal forces during movement. Pure cotton materials coupled with specialized padding create a soft, castlike environment, which confines swollen tissues without constriction. By relying on high working pressure and low resting pressures to decrease limb swelling, this strategy achieves greater control over intensity (level of compression/pressure exerted), with little to no soft-tissue injury or discomfort.
The patient wears this bulky inelastic complex after each MLD treatment until the next day’s session to ensure limb-volume reduction in a stable, linear fashion. Once a plateau is reached, tissue stabilization and self-care education are the goals of additional sessions.


Exercise always must be done with adequate support to counteract fluid formation. During the intensive CDT phase, limbs are bandaged to provide complete around-the-clock containment. Gentle exercises encourage blood flow into the muscle; during muscle contraction, this creates a favorable internal pressure that effectively squeezes the subcutaneous space between the bandage wall and muscle. Because every bandage strives to provide a gradient of support, fluid tends to drain proximally to the bandage—in most cases, to the trunk.

Skin and nail hygiene

Without intact, well-hydrated skin, cellulitic infections occur in many lymphedema patients whose immune response has been diminished by regional lymphadenectomy or inherited deficiencies. To prevent infection caused by avoidable external events, patients receive clear guidelines to reinforce appropriate behavior. As most cellulitis results from resident skin pathogens (streptococci and staphylococci), maintaining a low skin pH helps control colonization. Ways to avoid recurrent infections include maintaining an acid mantle on the skin using low-pH-formulated lotions and avoiding injury from daily tasks that may scratch, puncture, burn, or abrade the skin. Patients should receive lists of self-care precautions at the time of treatment.

Self-care education

Because lymphedema is a chronic condition, patients must receive self-care education for daily management to avoid lymphedema destabilization, which can lead to tissue saturation and subsequent skin changes. Therapists must provide patients with appropriate self-care tools and knowledge to maintain adequate treatment results. Teaching topics include how to apply and remove compression garments and bandages and how to exercise safely, preserve skin integrity, monitor for infection, and respond appropriately to infection and significant changes in limb mobility.

An underrecognized and mistreated problem

Lymphedema remains an underrecognized and mistreated condition, even though CDT yields safe, reliable results. Early detection, accurate staging, proper diagnosis, and appropriate treatment can slow the inevitable progression of lymphedema. Wound care specialists should adapt wound therapy to address not just the wound but the edematous environment responsible for delayed wound resolution.

Selected references
Al-Niaimi F, Cox N. Cellulitis and lymphedema: a vicious cycle. J Lymphoedema. 2009;4:38-42.

Browse N, Burnand KG, Mortimer PS. Diseases of the Lymphatics. London: Hodder Arnold; 2003.

Casley-Smith JR, Casley-Smith JR. Modern Treatment for Lymphoedema. 5th ed. The Lymphoedema Association of Australia; 1997.

Cooper R, White R. Cutaneous infections in lymphoedema. J Lymphoedema. 2009:4:44-8.

Foeldi M. Foeldi’s Textbook of Lymphology: For Physicians and Lymphedema Therapists. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2012.

International Society of Lymphology. The diagnosis and treatment of peripheral lymphedema. Consensus Document of the International Society of Lymphology. Lymphology. 2009 Jun;42(2):51-60.

Leduc A, Bastin R, Bourgeois P. Lymphatic reabsorption of proteins and pressotherapies. Progress in Lymphology XI. 1988:591-2.

National Lymphedema Network Medical Advisory Committee. Position Statement: Lymphedema Risk Reduction Practices. Revised May 2012. Accessed September 5, 2012.

Pappas CJ, O’Donnell TF Jr. Long-term results of compression treatment for lymphedema. J Vasc Surg. 1992 Oct;16(4):555-62.

Whittlinger H. Textbook of Dr. Vodder’s Manual Lymphatic Drainage. Vol 1. 7th ed. New York, NY: Thieme; 2003.

Steve Norton is cofounder of Lymphedema & Wound Care Education and executive director of the Norton School of Lymphatic Therapy in Matawan, New Jersey.

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Clinical Notes

New wound-swabbing technique detects more bacteria

The new Essen Rotary swabbing technique takes a few seconds longer to perform than traditional techniques, but improves bacterial count accuracy in patients with chronic leg ulcers, according to a study published by Wounds International.
Evaluation of the Essen Rotary as a new technique for bacterial swabs: Results of a prospective controlled clinical investigation in 50 patients with chronic leg ulcers” reports that Essen Rotary detected significantly more bacteria compared to standard techniques and was the only one to identify five patients with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), compared to three detected by other techniques.
The Essen Rotary technique samples a larger surface area of the wound, which is beneficial for detecting MRSA.
“The Essen Rotary may become the new gold standard in routinely taken bacteriological swabs especially for MRSA screenings in patients with chronic leg ulcers,” the study authors write.

Reducing HbA1c by less than 1% cuts cardiovascular risk by 45% in patients with type 2 diabetes

A study presented at the American Diabetes Association 72nd Scientific Sessions found lowering HbA1c an average of 0.8% (from a mean of 7.8% to 7.0%, the treatment target) reduced the risk of cardiovascular death by 45% in patients with type
2 diabetes.
The absolute risk of mortality from a cardiovascular event was 9.9 events per 1,000 person-years in patients with decreasing HbA1c compared to 17.8 events in patients with stable or increasing HbA1c.
HbA1c reduction and risk of cardiovascular diseases in type 2 diabetes: An observational study from the Swedish NDR” examined data from 18,035 patients in the Swedish National Diabetes Register.

CMS revises hospital, nursing home comparison websites

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has enhanced two websites designed to help the public make informed choices about their health care.
Hospital Compare and Nursing Home Compare now have better navigation and new comparison tools. The two sites include data on quality measures, such as frequency of hospital-acquired infections, and allow the user to compare hospitals on these measures.
Improvements include easy-to-use maps for locating hospitals, a new search function that enables the user to input the name of a hospital, and glossaries that are easier to understand. It’s now also possible to access the data on the sites through mobile applications.
CMS maintains the websites, which are helpful for anyone who wants to compare facilities, not just patients on Medicare or Medicaid.
For more information, read the article in Healthcare IT News.

IOM releases report on accelerating new drug and diagnostics development

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released “Accelerating the development of new drugs and diagnostics: Maximizing the impact of the Cures Acceleration Network—Workshop Summary.” The report is a summary of a forum that brought together members of federal government agencies, the private sector, academia, and advocacy groups to explore options and opportunities in the implementation of Cures Acceleration Network (CAN). The newly developed CAN has the potential to stimulate widespread changes in the National Institutes of Health and drug development in general.

Focus on individualized care—not just reducing swelling—in lymphedema patients

As a result of two extensive literature reviews, a researcher at the University of Missouri found that emphasizing quality of life—not just reducing swelling—is important for patients with lymphedema. Many providers and insurance companies base treatment on the degree of edema, but the volume of fluid doesn’t always correspond with the patients’ discomfort. Instead, an individualized plan of care should be developed.
The researchers found that Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT), a comprehensive approach for treating lymphedema that includes skin and nail care, exercise, manual lymphatic drainage, and compression, may be the best form of specialized lymphedema management. For more information about CDT, watch for the November/December issue of Wound Care Advisor.

Plague case in Oregon draws national attention

An article about a case of the plague in Oregon has appeared on Huffington Post. A welder contracted the disease as a result of unsuccessfully removing a mouse from a stray cat’s mouth. Part of his hands have, in the words of the article, “darkened to the color of charcoal.” Later tests confirmed the cat had the plague.
Plague cases are rare in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 7 human cases are reported each year, with a range of 1 to 17 cases. Antibiotics have significantly reduced morality. About half of cases occur in people ages 12 to 45.

Use of negative pressure wound therapy with skin grafts

Optimal use of negative pressure wound therapy for skin grafts,” published by International Wound Journal, reviews expert opinion and scientific evidence related to the use of negative pressure wound therapy with reticulated open-cell foam for securing split-thickness skin grafts.
The article covers wound preparation, treatment criteria and goals, economic value, and case studies. The authors conclude that the therapy has many benefits, but note that future studies are needed “to better measure the expanding treatment goals associated with graft care, including increased patient satisfaction, increased patience compliance and improved clinical outcomes.”

Mechanism for halting healing of venous ulcers identified

Researchers have identified that aberrantly expressed microRNAs inhibit healing of chronic venous ulcers, according to a study in The Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Six microRNAs were plentiful in 10 patients with chronic venous ulcers. The microRNAs target genes important in healing the ulcers. In an article about the study, one of the researchers said, “The more we know about the molecular mechanisms that contribute to [the development of venous ulcers], the more we can rationally develop both diagnostic tools and new therapies.”

Hemodialysis-related foot ulcers not limited to patients with diabetes

Both patients with diabetes and those without are at risk for hemodialysis-related foot ulcers, according to a study published by International Wound Journal.
Researchers assessed 57 patients for ulcer risk factors (peripheral neuropathy, peripheral arterial disease, and foot pathology, such as claw toes, hallux valgus, promi­nent metatarsal heads, corns, callosities, and nail pathologies) at baseline, and noted mortality 3 years later.
In all, 79% of patients had foot pathology at baseline, and 18% of patients without diabetes had peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral arterial disease was present in 45% of diabetic and 30% of nondiabetic patients. Nearly half (49%) of patients had two or more risk factors. Only 12% of patients had no risk factors. The presence of peripheral arterial disease and peripheral neuropathy increased risk of mortality.
The authors of “Prevalence of risk factors for foot ulceration in a general haemodialysis population” state that the high prevalence of risk factors in nondiabetic patients indicates that they are at risk for developing foot ulcers.

Study identifies risk factors for mortality from MRSA bacteremia

A study in Emerging Infectious Diseases found that older age, living in a nursing home, severe bacteremia, and organ impairment increase the risk of death from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteremia.
Consultation with a specialist in infectious disease lowers the risk of death, and MRSA strain types weren’t associated with mortality.
Predicting risk for death from MRSA bacteremia” studied 699 incidents of blood infection from 603 patients who had MRSA bacteremia.

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Lymphedema 101 – Part 1: Understanding the pathology and diagnosis

By Steve Norton, CDT, CLT-LANA

Lymphedema is characterized by regional immune dysfunction, distorted limb contours, and such skin changes as papillomas, hyperkeratosis, and increased girth. The condition may involve the limbs, face, neck, trunk, and external genitals; its effects may include psychological distress. For optimal patient management, clinicians must understand what causes lymphedema and how it’s diagnosed and treated.
This two-part series provides an over­view of lymphedema. Part 1 covers etiology, pathology, and diagnosis. Part 2, which will appear in the November-
December issue, will focus on treatment.

Causes of lymphedema

Lymphedema occurs when protein-rich fluid accumulates in the interstitium due to impaired lymphatic function. Proteins, other macromolecular wastes, and water constitute lymphatic loads. These wastes rely on specially structured absorptive and transport structures in peripheral regions for their return to central circulation.
When lymph stasis prevails, inflammatory processes and lymphostatic fibrosis trigger tissue-density changes, further entrapping superficial vessels and accelerating mechanical insufficiency. (See Physiologic changes caused by lymphatic disruption by clicking the PDF icon above.)

Classifying lymphedema

Lymphedema can be primary or secondary. Primary lymphedema either is congenital (present at birth) or arises around puberty. In the vast majority of cases, it is associated with structural changes in the lymphatic system and isn’t associated with another disease or condition. Most structural changes (87%) manifest before age 35 and cause hypoplasia of vessels and nodes. Syndromes involving hyperplasia, node fibrosis, or aplasia also may occur, although they’re much less common. Dysplasia (either hypoplasia, hyperplasia, or aplasia) predisposes drainage regions to inadequate lymph collection, resulting in edema and secondary tissue changes, such as chronic inflammation and reactive fibrosis. Genetic variability in lymphatic constitution may explain why seemingly similar patients receiving the same surgical protocol have different lymphedema risks over time.
Secondary lymphedema stems from a significant insult to lymphatic tissues, as from lymphadenectomy, radiation therapy, trauma, infection, or cancer. It commonly results from direct trauma to regional nodes or vessel structures. Slow degradation of lymphatic function also occurs when adjacent tissues (such as superficial and deep veins) become diseased, when cellulitis occurs, or when accumulations
of adipose or radiation fibrosis mechanical-ly disrupt drainage of skin lymphatics.

Lymphedema stages

Lymphedema progresses in stages, which involve secondary connective-tissue disease combined with disturbed fluid update and transport. These conditions cause a universal and classic clinical picture.
•    Stage 0 (latency stage) is marked by reduced transport capacity and functional re­serve. The patient has no visible or palpable edema, but has such subjective complaints as heaviness, tightness, and waterlogged sensations.
•    In Stage 1 edema (reversible lymphedema), edema decreases with elevation. Pitting edema is present, but fibrosis is absent.
•    During Stage 2 (spontaneously irreversible lymphedema), lymphedema doesn’t resolve entirely, although it may fluctuate. Pitting is more pronounced and fibrosis is present.
•    Stage 3 (lymphostatic elephantiasis) is marked by dermal hardening, nonpitting edema, papillomas, hyperkeratosis, and in some cases, extreme girth.

Assessment and diagnosis

Diagnosing lymphedema can be challenging because edema may be associated with other diseases and disorders. For a summary of signs and symptoms, see Clinical findings in lymphedema by clicking the PDF icon above.

Discomfort and skin appearance

Lymphedema rarely causes pain because the skin accommodates gradual, insidious fluid accumulation. However, secondary orthopedic discomfort may result from increased weight of the affected limb due to deconditioning or decreased range of motion.
Because lymphedema usually progresses slowly, gravity and centrifugal forces pull fluids toward distal limb areas, causing an entrenched, stubborn pitting edema. Later, further valvular incompetence contributes to worsening distal edema in the fingers, toes, and dorsal regions of the hand and foot. Prominent lower-extremity structures, such as the malleolus, patella, tibia, anterior tibialis tendon, and Achilles tendon, become progressively less distinct. This creates a columnar limb appearance; the swollen limb has the same girth from distal to proximal aspects, unlike the natural cone shape of a normal limb.
Lymphatic failure doesn’t tax the venous system, so skin color remains normal. Blood supply remains patent, helping to prevent secondary ulcers.


Lymphedema severity correlates directly with such factors as onset of the condition and extent of cancer therapy, if given (number of nodes resected, number of positive nodes, and use of radiotherapy). Lymphedema may worsen with a greater number of infection episodes, weight gain, injury, diuretics, limb disuse, pneumatic compression therapy (when used for pure lymphedema), and ill-fitting compression garments. The single most important contributor to increasing lymphedema severity is lack of patient education, which can result in improper treatment or none at all.

Opportunistic infections

Lymphedema causes regional immune suppression and leads to an increase in opportunistic infections such as cellulitis. As skin integrity suffers, scaling and dryness allow resident skin pathogens (such as streptococci and staphylococci) to gain access through the defective skin barrier into protein-rich interstitial fluid, creating a medium favorable to bacterial colonization. Lymphocyte migration decreases, and dissected or irradiated nodal sites are slow to detect invaders. Furthermore, stagnant lymph promotes further delays in the immune response. Patients with opportunistic infections may exhibit high fever, local erythema, regional hypersensitivity or acute pain, flulike symptoms, and rapidly advancing “map-like” borders in the skin.

Differential diagnosis

Several methods can aid differential diagnosis.
Clinical findings. Lymphedema can be diagnosed from patient history, physical examination, palpation, and inspection. Trauma to lymph nodes (each of which governs a distinct body region) decreases the transport capacity of lymph formed in that region, in turn causing local swelling (lymphedema). Trauma to the axillary or inguinal lymph nodes, which exist on both the left and right of the body and in both the upper and lower regions, predisposes these quadrants to swelling. Therefore, if lymph nodes on only one side are damaged, lymphedema occurs only on that side of the body. Using the universal characteristics cited above as a guide, while ruling out cancer recurrence, acute deep vein thrombosis, or plasma protein abnormalities, yields sufficient data to form a diagnosis.
Imaging. Lymphography involves sub­cutaneous injection of a lymph vessel–
specific dye (Patent Blue V), followed by X-ray. Although it provides high-resolution images of lymphatic structures, this technique is invasive, painful, damaging to lymphatics, and potentially lethal—and therefore is no longer recommended.
Lymphangioscintigraphy (LAS) uses interdigital subcutaneous injection of protein-labeled radioisotopes, followed by
imaging at specific intervals to gather information about uptake and transport time. Images are hazy and false-negatives are common, so well-trained radiotherapists familiar with lymphology and lymphedema should administer and interpret the test. Also, experts don’t agree on standard criteria for LAS administration, so measures may not be similarly conclusive.
Limb-measuring instruments and methods. Serial measurement of affected limb circumference using a standard garment tape measure is the most widely accessible approach. Intra-rater reliability is comparable to that of currently used tools; however, these methods can’t be used for early detection, for screening, or when various raters are used to assess the same patient. Circumferences are measured at four points and are considered positive if a distance of 2 cm or more separates the involved from uninvolved extremity in comparison. Water displacement techniques for limb-volume calculation, although accurate, are impractical in most clinical settings and rarely used.
Various devices have been used to obtain measurements. For instance, the Perometer® uses optoelectronic volumetry. By scanning the limb with infrared beams circumferentially, the device accurately records girth at 4-mm intervals along the limb length and transmits these measurements to a computer. The Perometer is used mainly in the research setting. Preoperative and postoperative measurements at intervals can detect lymphedema early.
Impedimed XCA® uses bioelectrical
impedance to calculate ratios of intracellular to extracellular fluid. A weak electrical current is passed through affected and unaffected limbs, allowing comparison of results. Impedance is lower in edematous tissue, supporting an accurate diagnosis.

Next step: Treatment

Once a diagnosis is made, the next step is treatment. Part 2 of this series covers lymphedema treatment.

Selected references
Foeldi M. Foeldi’s Textbook of Lymphology: For Physicians and Lymphedema Therapists. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2012.

Kubik S, Manestar M. Anatomy of the lymph capillaries and precollectors of the skin. In: Bollinger A, Partsch H, Wolfe JHN, eds. The Initial Lymphatics. Stuttgart: Thieme-Verlag; 1985:66-74.

Lee B, Andrade M, Bergan J, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of primary lymphedema. Consensus document of the International Union of Phlebology (IUP)—2009. Int Angiol. 2010 Oct;29(5):454-70.

Lerner R. Chronic lymphedema. In: Prasad H, Olsen ER, Sumpio BE, Chang JB, eds. Textbook of Angiology. Springer; 2000.

Mayrovitz HN. Assessing lymphedema by tissue indentation force and local tissue water. Lymphology. 2009 June;42(2):88-98

National Cancer Institute. Lymphedema (PDQ®): Health Professional Version. Updated June 30, 2011.
. Accessed September 5, 2012.

Northrup KA, Witte MH, Witte CL. Syndromic classification of hereditary lymphedema. Lymphology. 2003 Dec:36(4):162-89.

Olszewski WL. Lymph Stasis: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis and Treatment. CRC Press; 1991.

Pecking AP, Alberini JL, Wartski M, et al. Relationship between lymphoscintigraphy and clinical findings in lower limb lymphedema (LO): toward a comprehensive staging. Lymphology. 2008 Mar;41(1):1-10.

Stanton AW, Northfield JW, Holroyd, B, et al. Validation of an optoelectronic volumeter (Perometer). Lymphology. 1997 June;30(2):77-97

Weissleder H, Schuchhardt C. Lymphedema: Diagnosis and Therapy. 4th ed. Viavital Verlag GmbH; 2007.

Steve Norton is cofounder of Lymphedema & Wound Care Education and executive director of the Norton School of Lymphatic Therapy in Matawan, New Jersey.

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Clinical Notes

2012 guideline for diabetic foot infections released

Foot infections in patients with diabetes usually start in a wound, most often a neuropathic ulceration. So clinicians can better manage diabetic foot infections, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) published “2012 Infectious Diseases Society of America Clinical Practice Guideline for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Diabetic Foot Infections” in the June 15 Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The guideline updates IDSA’s 2004 diabetic foot infections guideline. It focuses on appropriate therapy, including debridement of dead tissue, appropriate antibiotic therapy, removing pressure on the wound, and assessing (and potentially improving) blood flow to the foot. The guideline also provides suggestions regarding when and how long antibiotics should be administered for soft-tissue and bone infections.

When diagnosing a diabetic patient with foot infection, the guideline recommends clinicians evaluate the patient at three levels—the patient as a whole, the affected foot or limb, and the infected wound. The guideline also provides advice on when and how to culture diabetic foot wounds.

Access a podcast on the guideline, which is available in a smartphone format and as a pocket-size quick-reference edition.

Combining bariatric surgery with medical therapy improves glycemic control

In obese patients with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, bariatric surgery and 12 months of medical therapy significantly improved glycemic control compared to those who received only medical therapy, according to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine. “Bariatric surgery versus intensive medical therapy in obese patients with diabetes” was a randomized, nonblinded, single-center trial that included 150 patients in three groups: medical therapy only, medical therapy and Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, and medical therapy and sleeve gastrectomy.

Although glycemic control improved for all three groups, those who received bariatric surgery had better control. Use of drugs to lower glucose, lipid, and blood-pressure levels decreased significantly after both surgical procedures but increased in patients receiving medical therapy only. No deaths or life-threatening complications occurred.

HHS launches web-based tool for tracking healthcare performance

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has launched a web-based tool for monitoring the performance of the healthcare system. The Health System Measurement Project gives providers and the public the ability to examine datasets from across the federal government that span specific topic areas, such as access to care, vulnerable populations, prevention, and quality. Users can also view indicators by population characteristics, such as age, sex, income level, insurance coverage, and geography.

PEG tubes may increase risk of new pressure ulcers

According to a study published in Archives of Internal Medicine, percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tubes may increase the risk of pressure ulcers in nursing home patients with advanced cognitive impairment.

Researchers found that hospitalized patients who receive a PEG tube were 2.27 times more likely to develop a new pressure ulcer and those with a pressure ulcer were less likely to have it heal when they had a PEG tube. “Our findings regarding the risk of developing new stage 2 or higher pressure ulcers suggest that PEG feeding tubes are not beneficial, but in fact they may potentially harm patients,” conclude the researchers in “Feeding tubes and the prevention or healing of pressure ulcers.”

AHRQ provides QI toolkit for hospitals

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) offers a toolkit designed to help hospitals understand AHRQ’s quality indicators (QIs). “AHRQ Quality Indicators™ Toolkit for Hospitals” includes steps for improvement, how to sustain change, and different tools for different audiences. Clinicians can also access audio interviews that provide information on how to use the tools and engage stakeholders and staff in QI efforts, and a recording of a webinar on the toolkit.

Silk fibers may be future resource for bone and tissue repair

Researchers at Tufts University have developed the first all-polymeric bone scaffold material that is fully biodegradable and capable of providing significant mechanical support during repair. The material could improve the way bones and tissues are repaired after an accident or following disease effects.

The new technology uses micron-size silk fibers to reinforce a silk matrix, much as steel rebar reinforces concrete. The study, “High-strength silk protein scaffolds for bone repair,” published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the scaffold material is significantly less strong than normal bone, but it may play a role as a temporary biodegradable support for the patient’s cells to grow.

International guidelines for silver dressings in wounds released

June’s Wounds International includes “International consensus: Appropriate use of silver dressings in wounds.”

A meeting of an international group of experts, convened by Wounds International, met in December 2011 to compile the consensus guidelines, which describe the patients who are most likely to benefit from silver dressings and how to use the dressings appropriately.

The guidelines recommend that silver dressings be used “in the context of accepted standard wound care for infected wounds or wounds that are at high risk of infection or reinfection.” Another recommendation is to use silver dressings for 2 weeks, then evaluate the wound, patient, and management approach before deciding whether to continue using the dressing or if a more aggressive intervention such as antibiotics would be better.

Cell therapy may benefit patients with lower extremity CLI

Injections of ixmyelocel-T in patients with lower extremity critical limb ischemia (CLI) who aren’t candidates for revascularization can prolong the time until treatment failure, according to a study in Molecular Therapy. Time to treatment failure was defined as major amputation, all-cause mortality, doubling of total wound surface area from baseline, or de novo gangrene. The double-blind, placebo-controlled RESTORE-CLI trial found that the adverse event rates were similar in the two groups.

New skin patch destroys skin cancer cells

A new skin patch destroyed facial basal cell carcinoma cells in 80% of patients, according to a study reported at the Society of Nuclear Medicine’s 2012 Annual Meeting.

Each of the 10 patients with facial basal cell carcinoma received a custom-made and fully sealed phosphorus-32 skin patch, a radiation spot-treatment in the form of a patch. Each patient was treated for 3 hours on the first day; the patches were reapplied on the fourth and seventh days after the first treatment for another 3 hours each. Three years after treatment, 8 of 10 patients were cancer-free.

The patients had lesions near the eyes, the nose, and forehead—areas more difficult to operate on, especially if skin grafting is needed later.

Small study links lymphedema to obesity

The average body-mass index (BMI) in obese patients with lymphedema was significantly greater than BMIs of obese patients without lymphedema, according to correspondence in The New England Journal of Medicine. The authors conclude, “Our findings suggest that obesity…may be a cause of lower-extremity lymphedema.”

Lower-Extremity Lymphedema and Elevated Body-Mass Index” included 15 obese patients with bilateral lower-extremity enlargement who were referred to the authors’ center. Of the 15, five were diagnosed with lymphedema by lymphoscintigraphy.

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Learning to love your job

By Joan C. Borgatti, MEd, RN

The alarm clock goes off too early, and you jump-start the day with a cup of coffee and a short stack of reasons why you hate your job. Sound familiar? Although you can’t expect to love every aspect of your job, you should expect to get some degree of fulfillment from your career. If you don’t, maybe your job isn’t the problem. Maybe you just need a little career resuscitation to turn things around. First, let’s be clear. I’m not urging you to stay in a job that exposes you to unsafe conditions, a toxic environment, or a toxic boss. Call the code and get out, because emotional and physical well-being comes first. However, know that blaming our jobs for our dissatisfaction may be easier than taking a closer look at the chaos in our lives. It’s even easier not to fix what’s wrong, instead consoling ourselves with the company of like-suffering people. And misery does love company.

If you can’t have the job you love, love the job you have. The daily grind of Herculean demands can wear down even the most conscientious clinicians—to the point where we’re no longer seeking job satisfaction but struggling just to make it through the day. But you can turn things around. To enhance your job satisfaction, try these sure-fire methods. (Okay, maybe they’re not sure-fire, but they’re sure worth a try.)

Know when to say no

When your life feels out of balance, any demand will feel as if it’s sucking the living daylights out of you. You’ll be tempted to blame your job, when the truth is you’re giving in to a bottomless pit called “trying to please everyone else.” Learn to say no to the things you don’t want and say yes to more of what you do want. Say no to anything that’s not a priority (making cupcakes for the second-grade class). Say yes to quality time with your family and quality time for you (that painting class you’ve always wanted to take). Key question: How would the quality of your life improve if you started to say no to demands that don’t enhance its quality, and say yes to the things you want more of?

Learn to see the big picture again

Recognize that, in ways you can’t see or perhaps even imagine, you’ve forever touched and changed the lives of the patients you’ve cared for. The ability to touch and heal another person is a gift that’s available to few people in other professions, who struggle to find meaning in what they do. Key questions: In what ways have you helped your patients? What special qualities and skills are uniquely yours to give? How can you make the most of the opportunity to make a difference in patients’ lives?

Attract the positive

When we’re miserable, other miserable people gravitate to us. Soon a collective mindset takes root and the negative “group think” becomes a life-form unto
itself, festering and insatiable. So be careful of the company you keep. Surround yourself with positive people—clinicians committed to making a difference. This will reenergize you and give you a new perspective on your job.

Learn to be what you want

To be more passionate about your job,
focus on the aspects of the job that excite you the most. Passion is an energy form that attracts more of the same. Say, for instance, you’d love to buy a red convertible. One day you go out for a drive and you see red convertibles everywhere! Have more red convertibles suddenly driven off the assembly line? No; your mind is preselecting, or noticing the convertibles, for you. In the same way, you can preselect either more passion or more misery.

Pay it forward

Keep in mind that novice clinicians proceed through a learning curve. Rather than moan about how inexperienced they are, take one under your wing and turn her or him into the sort of clinician you’d want at your bedside if you were ill. You’ll rediscover your profession through this clinician’s eyes.

Communicate cleanly and ask for what you want

People can’t read your mind. To get more of what you want and less of what you don’t want, learn to communicate in a clean, neutral way. Let’s say you consistently wind up with the more difficult patient assignments. And let’s assume your boss does that because you’re the most clinically experienced clinician—not because she’s the devil incarnate. You can respond in one of two ways.

•    Gripe to a coworker: “Can you believe she gave me that workload again?”
•    Communicate with your boss cleanly and neutrally: “Lately it seems you’ve given me the more difficult patient assignments, and I appreciate your faith in me. Is there some way we can give other clinicians a chance to gain more experience caring for difficult patients? I’d be happy to act as a resource for them.”

See the difference? The first response does nothing to change the situation; it simply fuels the collective misery mindset. The second response communicates to the boss in a respectful, appreciative way (yes, bosses need appreciation, too!) and seeks a solution that pleases everyone.

Take action and follow your STAR

Using the mnemonic device “STAR” can guide you toward actions that increase your job satisfaction.

Success on your terms. We all define success differently. If you grew up in a family of college professors, chances are the healthcare field didn’t fit your family’s definition of success; your job dissatisfaction may stem from your inner turmoil over not meeting your family’s expectations. To key into these expectations, recall the “you should” and “you ought to” messages you heard as a child.

Key question: Take a moment to think about what success in your career would look and feel like. Then complete this sentence: “I know I will be successful when I have/I am _________.”

True north as your guide. A large part of how we judge ourselves, our worth, our success, and our happiness hinges on how other people see us. But true success, true happiness, and true job satisfaction are determined from within, by your inner compass. The captain of a ship must always know where true north is, because it never changes (much like our core values). He must know the difference between true north and compass north. Unlike true north, compass north is affected by the earth’s magnetic pull. In life, compass north is the magnetic pull of “you should do this” and “you ought to do that” messages. For instance, if you’re a skilled wound care clinician but have always been particularly passionate about lymphedema, you may dislike your job. That’s because you’ve ignored your true north (inner truth) and given in to compass north (fear of walking away from those current skills, and so forth). Don’t be afraid to follow your true north.

Key question: What steps can you take right now that will move you closer to your true north?

Assess and understand who you are. Most of us can articulate what our strengths are. But that’s not enough. To get more enjoyment from your job, you must stretch and exercise your strengths and look for ways to use them. If the opportunities aren’t there, create them.

Let’s say you’re the one everyone turns to for help when there’s a patient with a lower extremity ulcer. To leverage that strength, offer to hold an education program.

Key questions: List your strengths, and then ask yourself: How can I leverage these? If you’re too humble to recognize your strengths, give yourself 20 lashes (figuratively speaking); then ask a trusted colleague, “What do you see as my strengths?”

Risk it all (within reason). When we play it safe, our lives and careers can be pretty dull. We’re meant to push the envelope and stretch our capabilities. It puts the juice back in our lives and helps us grow and feel more alive. Nothing shakes out the cobwebs and brings excitement back to your career more than taking a risk. With every risk comes the threat of failure, but know that failure is just another form of data that helps you readjust and move forward. Don’t give failure more power than your successes.

Key questions: If you weren’t afraid, what risks would you consider taking to enhance your career? What’s holding you back?

Embrace change

An Eastern saying goes something like this: You can stand by a river, but you can never put your feet in the same place twice. The river is your life. It’s not stagnant; it’s ever changing. Nothing in life stays the same—not personal circumstances, relationships, or careers. You aren’t the clinician you were 10 years ago or even last year. So tweak your professional life to better reflect the clinician you are today. With a little attention, you could make your job the career of your dreams.

Selected references
Bird J. Do you need to love your job? Not necessarily. Accessed May 21, 2012.

Borgatti J. Frazzled, Fried…Finished? A Guide to Help Nurses Find Balance. Borgatti Communications; 2004. and

Colvin C. How to love the job you’ve got. Accessed May 21, 2012.

Johnson Montesol S. How to love the job you’ve got. Accessed May 21, 2012.

Joan C. Borgatti, MEd, RN, is the owner of Borgatti Communications in Wellesley Hills, Mass., which provides writing, editing, and coaching services. You may e-mail her at

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