Over the last 14 years, 134 patients with obstructive lymphedema have been treated with microlymphaticovenous anastomoses. Ninety patients were available for long-term follow-up study. Of these, 52 patients were treated by microlymphatic surgery only and 38 of them also had segmental or radical reduction surgery, either at the same time or secondarily. Objective assessment was undertaken by volume and circumferential measurements. Initially, lymphangiography was used, but a study demonstrated increased edema immediately following the investigation in one-third of the patients and it was abandoned, both preoperatively and postoperatively.
In the microlymphaticovenous anastomoses only group (N = 52), subjective improvement occurred in 38 patients (73 percent). Objectively, volume changes showed a significant improvement in 22 patients (42 percent), with an average reduction of 44 percent of the excess volume. In the microlymphaticovenous anastomoses and reduction surgery, usually segmental, group (N = 38), subjective improvement occurred in 30 patients (78 percent) and objective improvement occurred in 23 patients (60 percent), with an average reduction of 44 percent of the excess volume. Of those followed up, 67 patients (74 percent) have been able to discontinue the use of conservative measures, with an average follow-up of 4.0 years and average reduction in excess volume of 26 percent. There was a 58 percent reduction in the incidence of cellulitis following surgery.
In those patients who were improved, drainage resulted in increased softness of the limbs. Edema of the hand diminished considerably in most patients, although this was difficult to measure.
These long-term results indicate that microlymphaticovenous anastomoses have a valuable place in the treatment of obstructive lymphedema and should be the treatment of choice in these patients. Reduction surgery can be used as an adjunct in some of these patients, especially in the posteromedial aspect of the upper arm. Liposuction has been used in failed cases or in patients in whom no lymphatics could be found. Improved results can be expected with earlier operations because patients referred earlier usually have less lymphatic disruption.