Taking chinese herbs for lymphedema has helped me minimize my lower leg primary lymphedema.  For those of us who live in the western world, however, we’re used to seeing a certain type of doctor.  And no matter what specialty, the process of a doctor’s visit is usually relatively similar:  You fill out some forms and describe your issue, you get examined, maybe get a test done, and then get advice (like wait and see, or make this lifestyle change) or prescribed something a drug or a procedure.

If you’re going to try taking Chinese herbs for lymphedema, you might be in for a bit of shock.  Things are done differently with eastern medicine.

In this article, I’ll try to prepare you for what to expect, before, during and after your visit with the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctor or practitioner.

A Different Approach

In Chinese medicine, they look at a person truly as a whole.  Chinese medicine doesn’t just try to the symptom…they try to address the underlying cause.  In the case of lymphedema, clearly you want them treating the swelling.  But they will look at you overall to find whatever imbalances you may have, to help correct or improve the problem.

For most of us with lymphedema, there’s a big problem.  Our swelling seems to show that we’ve got an insufficient lymphatic system.  That might be due to physical removal or damage to lymph nodes during surgery.  Or in the case of primary lymphedema, we may not have all the “plumbing” we need, or we may have blockages, etc.

Chinese medicine attempts to help you optimize the lymphatic system that you have remaining.  It makes sense doesn’t it?  The goal is to get your body working as efficiently as possible, so the lymphatic system can do a better job.

In my experience, Chinese medicine helped me minimize, but not eliminate, my swelling.  But it took it back to where it was for me about 15 years before, when I didn’t have to wear compression or elevate, etc.  In fact at that time I didn’t even know what it was.

Regardless, for me, Chinese medicine helped make my entire lymphatic system do a better job.  I do get transient swelling when I sit at a desk for several hours, but it resolves on its own each night, just by sleeping horizontally.

Your First Appointment

When you make an appointment with Chinese medicine doctor or practitioner, you’ll probably get a lot of questions.  They will want to know about many aspects of your life, such as sleeping patterns, digestion, energy levels, diet, and lifestyle. Unique to Chinese medicine diagnosis, they seem to always look at your tongue as well as take your pulse.

They will look at your eyes and complexion (to see if your skin is pale or red, for example).  Also, your areas of concern will likely be looked at too, but not as much as you may expect.

Once a Chinese medicine diagnosis is made, they will recommend a treatment plan.  For lymphedema, it’s likely to be with Chinese herbs.  Acupuncture has shown promise to treat the swelling temporarily, but we are looking for a longer term fix, not just a short term reduction.

Chinese Herbs

Taking Chinese herbs is a bit different than taking a pill.  Usually the herbs will be provided in one of a few forms:

  • Powder: you may receive a bottle or two and a measuring spoon along with instructions.  Then you can simply add these to water, stir it up and drink it quickly.
  • Liquid: Some providers will give you pre-mixed liquid packets of herbs.  These just need to be warmed by putting the sealed packages in a bit of hot water first, then you can combine and drink them.
  • Capsules: Some providers may give you prepackaged capsules.  In this case you’ll be taking a lot of them, so this is not as common.

You’ll be told to take these maybe once or twice a day, before or after meals.

What does it taste like?

Here you may need some mental preparation.  While some Chinese herbs may taste okay, or even pleasant, in my experience, most don’t.  Some taste really bitter, but you can just drink them like a shot.  These are herbs….either roots, leaves, or other plant matter, so the taste and smell may be unusual.

Some people like to drink them like a tea, but I just basically gulp them down as fast as possible.  Your call.

Questions to ask

One important question to ask your provider up front is where you source your herbs.  Like other supplements, there have been occasions where herbs have been found to be loaded with heavy metals or other contaminants.  So it is critical that you ask and get a good answer about sourcing.  If in doubt, find another provider.

Also, just like if you were looking for any type of professional service, its best to look at yelp and other sources to find reviews.  You want someone who is good at what they do, thorough and easy to contact for follow up, and reviews will usually help you ascertain that.  Look for credentials and experience successfully treating others.

How much will this cost?

This of course will vary probably widely, but here’s my experience generally, so you at least have an idea.

I’ve used two different providers.  One was more expensive but he was the only one that I found who had pre-existing experience treating lymphedema.  And, to his credit, the treatment worked.  The good news is that since that time (about 5 years ago) I have found other providers with experience who charge much less.

In my most recent experience, I was charged about $150 for an initial consultation (which was via skype since I don’t have any providers near me right now).  Then in the first month it was $350 per month, then I was told it would be anywhere from about $175 – $350 per month after that.  Additional months are usually less since they start cutting down the quantity you take once you start getting meaningful results.

The first time, I spent more than triple that.  I did get a result, so I’m grateful for that, but I was happy to find a qualified but much less expensive provider who also has experience treating this condition.

This of course may vary based on where you live.

If you have a health savings account, usually you can use it to pay for these types of expenses, too.

How long will it take to get results?

The first time I used Chinese herbs for lymphedema, it took four months to get any drop in swelling.  Then it continued to drop over the course of several more months.  I had had the condition for over 15 years at that time, however.  If you have a more recent case, maybe it’s less, but regardless, you need to give it time.

However, lymphedema is no easy fix.  Most people get great results meaning no more compression stockings, no more MLD, etc.  But it takes time.

Even with that, I found the savings from ditching compression and MLD helped offset the cost of the herbs, so it was not too far from a wash.

Plus I got my life back, since I no longer had to be constantly stressed with things to keep the swelling under control.   Most importantly.

The swelling was minimized for about 4 years.  Just recently it started swelling more and so I restarted herbs.  Maybe I’ll have to do this every few years, but to me that’s a tradeoff I’ll take any day.

Have you tried Chinese herbs for lymphedema?  What’s your experience?  We’d love to hear….the more input we can get about your experiences, good or bad, the more it can benefit all of us going forward.