Lymphedema treatment & prevention

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Lymphedema is a swelling of the arm on the side of the body where breast or lymph node surgery (or radiation of the lymph nodes) was performed. The swelling is caused by a build-up of lymph fluids which are unable to drain from the arm due to the treatment received. While lymphedema can be a permanent condition, there are many women who experience very mild swelling. There are many effective ways to treat lymphedema, however the best action is to try to prevent it from happening.

The following suggestions are from the National Lymphedema Network, and have proven helpful to many survivors:

  • Absolutely do not ignore any slight increase of swelling in the arm, hand, fingers, or chest wall (consult with your healthcare provider immediately)
  • Never allow an injection or blood to be drawn in the affected arm(s)
  • Have blood pressure checked in the unaffected arm
  • Keep the swollen arm, or the “at-risk” arm, spotlessly clean
  • Avoid vigorous, repetitive movements against resistance with the affected arm (scrubbing, pushing, pulling)
  • Avoid heavy lifting with the affected arm. Never carry heavy (over 12 pounds) handbags, luggage or totes with over-the-shoulder straps
  • Do not wear tight jewelry or elastic bands around affected fingers or arm(s)
  • Avoid extreme temperature changes when bathing, washing dishes, or sunbathing (no sauna or hot tub). Keep the arm protected from the sun.
  • Avoid any type of trauma (bruising, cuts, sunburn or other burns, sports injuries, insect bites, cat scratches)
  • Wear gloves while doing housework, gardening or any type of work that could result in even a minor injury
  • When manicuring your nails, avoid cutting your cuticles (inform your manicurist)
  • Exercise is important, but consult with your physical therapist. Do not overtire an arm at risk — if it starts to ache, lie down and elevate it. Recommended exercises: walking, swimming, light aerobics, bicycling, and specially designed ballet or yoga. (Do not lift more than 12 lbs)

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