Lymphedema and Dr. Oz: Let’s educate celebrities

  • 30 May 2012

In the U.S. only a hermit would ask “Who’s Dr. Oz?”

Now a TV superstar, Dr. Oz  achieved his fame from the Oprah Show, where he first appeared in 2004. Five short years later Winfrey’s Harpo Productions and Sony Pictures launched The Dr. Oz Show, a daily television program focusing on medical issues and personal health. To say the program has taken off wildly, especially among women, is an understatement. What lady doesn’t have a secret crush on this smiling, wise man who seems to know everything?

Well, surprise, surprise! He doesn’t know everything. A recent episode of the Dr. Oz Show featured a question from the audience about lymphedema. As a lymphedema patient-advocate I know that Dr. Oz’s answer provided incomplete advice regarding both clinical examination and treatment.

Rather than simply recommend wearing compression garments, Dr. Oz should have conveyed to this woman, who probably had primary lymphedema of the leg, that the gold standard treatment for lymphedema is complete decongestive therapy (CDT). The National Lymphedema Network still provides the most reliable information on the subject of treatment for this condition. But many other resources exist, including such trusted medical institutions as the Mayo Clinic and Stanford University Medical Center.

Dr. Oz’s audience should also understand that it’s not a good thing when lymphedema ceases to pit. It means the swelling has become at least partially irreversible.

My swollen lymphedemous arm, a result of removing lymph nodes to treat breast cancer, no longer pits because the fluid has collected in the arm and can’t be removed completely. I do don a compression garment to control my condition, but first I needed to undergo CDT at a clinic, including manual lymph drainage and daily bandaging. As part of CDT, the patient is taught how to self-manage the edema on a daily basis. In addition to wearing a day sleeve, I adhere to the recommended practices: use of a night garment, meticulous skin care to avoid infections and gentle stretching exercises to keep scars from blocking fluid passage.

I, for one, would appreciate an educational segment on the Dr. Oz Show about lymphedema that would “arm” patients with the information necessary to ask their doctors if they should be referred to a lymphedema clinic for treatment.

If you agree, it would be wonderful if you would join me in e-mailing Dr. Oz’s assistant, Susan Wagner (susan@zoco.com).  It takes only a few moments to relate briefly your experience with lymphedema and request that the subject be addressed with some expert information. Perhaps if the powers-that-be receive enough messages from this e-mail campaign, they’ll realize that Dr. Oz should provide another, more in-depth and well-informed show on lymphedema.

Thanks! Together we can make a difference!

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