This report highlights the initiative of two experienced complementary therapy practitioners/tutors, Julia Heath and Wendy Lewis, who set up a team of therapist volunteers from Wigan and Leigh College (England) to conduct a pilot study in a renal dialysis unit in Wigan, Lancashire at the invitation by renal consultant Dr Janet Heggarty. This work was conducted as part of the authors’ ongoing studies towards a BSc Hons degree in Complementary therapies.
During their time on the ward, one case of renal leg (asteatotic eczema) saw much improvement over the six week study. Renal leg, as it is more commonly known affects the lower limbs and is characterised by blood escaping through the capillary walls into the lower limbs and the feet. The legs present with a violent red/purple colour and sore pustules appear that later burst to form small open ulcer type sores.
Standard treatment includes the use of paraffin based emollient creams and steroid creams to stop the skin from cracking. Steroid creams, however thin the skin and the paraffin based creams caused this particular patient to break out in pustules more frequently.
Over the six week aromatherapy trial the blood pooling in the legs started to disperse dramatically. A blend made from 10 drops of Helichrysum italicum (immortelle), 10 drops of Juniperus communis (juniper) and 10 drops of Lavandula angustifolia (lavender) in a massage medium consisting of 500g aqueous cream, 60 mls of Rose water and 60mls carrier oil (50/50 blend of Vitis vinifera and Glycine soja) was massaged into the legs once a week by the practitioner and every two days by the patient as homecare. Three drops of T Tree oil were added to the recipe on treatment days when the patient was experiencing a breakout of pustules. The patient asserted that this seemed to abate the breakout and stop the pustules from becoming painful and infected. When a severe breakout was apparent, and massage was contraindicated, the treatment blend was applied to the legs, covered with surgical gauze and applied as a poultice for one hour.
The treatment saw the leg colouration start to disappear, firstly in small areas, which returned to its natural skin colour, but then over larger areas until the legs were left only with a slight brown staining under the skin. No further outbreaks were reported during treatment duration.
Based on the pilot study findings, staff and consultants of the renal unit concluded that complementary therapies (including aromatherapy) are safe, well tolerated and extremely highly valued by patients whilst on dialysis. They are now looking to secure funding to continue complementary practice on the ward and would like to offer complementary therapies for patients after dialysis, for their staff and for the carers of people with kidney disease.