It seems to be quite “fashionable” lately for website to put out pages on “How to Prevent Lymphedema.” As a lymphedema patient of almost 60 years, I find it somewhat dishonest (to say the least) for anyone to be claiming a way of doing this. It simply is not true. There is absolutely no scientific or medical evidence to support that claim and it gives false hopes to people who are desperate for some type of hope and help.
You can not absolutely prevent lymphedema if your lymphatic system has been damaged or compromised and you are at risk. The only way to “prevent” lymphedema is to have the lymph systemm regrown or repaired where it has been damaged. But there are certain steps you can take that can that can lessen your chances of getting it or will help lessen the severity of it should it happen.
While it is not possible to prevent lymphedema, you can and should take steps to lesson the possibility and/or to lessen its impact.
Dec. 30, 2011
Who is at risk for lymphedema? Anyone who has one or more of the following factors can acquire lymphedema.
1. Absolutely do not ignore any slight increase of swelling in the arm, hand, fingers or chest wall (consult with your doctor immediately).
2. Never allow an injection or a blood drawing in the affected arm(s).
3. Have blood pressure checked in the unaffected arm.
4. Keep the edemic arm, or “at-risk” arm spotlessly clean. Use lotion (Eucerin, Nivea) after bathing. When drying it, be gentle, but thorough. Make sure it is dry in any creases and between the fingers.
5. Avoid vigorous, repetitive movements against resistance with the affected arm (scrubbing, pushing, pulling).
6. Avoid heavy lifting with the affected arm. Never carry heavy handbags or bags with over-the-shoulder straps.
7. Do not wear tight jewelry or elastic bands around affected fingers or arm(s).
8. Avoid extreme temperature changes when bathing, washing dishes, or sunbathing (no 1sauna or hot tub). Keep the arm protected from the sun.
9. Avoid any type of trauma (bruising, cuts, sunburn or other burns, sports injuries, insect bites, cat scratches).
10. Wear gloves while doing housework, gardening or any type of work that could result in even a minor injury.
11. When manicuring your nails, avoid cutting your cuticles (inform you manicurist).
12. Exercise is important, but consult with your therapist. Do not overtire an arm at risk; if it starts to ache, lie down and elevate it. Recommended exercises: walking, swimming, light aerobics, bike riding, and specially designed ballet or yoga. (Do not lift more than 12 lbs.)
13. When traveling by air, patients with lymphedema must wear a compression sleeve. Additional bandages may be required on a long flight.
14. Patients with large breasts should wear light breast prostheses (heavy prostheses may put too much pressure on the lymph nodes above collar bone). Soft pads may have to be worn under the bra strap. Wear a well-fitted bra that is not too tight and with no wire support.
15. Use an electric razor to remove hair from axilla. Maintain electric razor properly replacing heads as needed.
16. Patients who have lymphedema should wear a well-fitted compression sleeve during all waking hours. At least every four to six months see your therapist for follow-up. If the sleeve is too loose, most likely the arm circumference has reduced or the sleeve is worn.
17. Warning: If you notice a rash, blistering, redness, increase of temperature or fever, see your physician immediately. An inflammation or infection in the affected arm could be the beginning of lymphedema or a worsening of lymphedema.
18. Maintain your ideal body weight through a well-balanced, low sodium, high-fiber diet. Avoid smoking and alcoholic beverages. Lymphedema is a high protein edema, but eating too little protein will not reduce the protein element in the lymph fluid; rather this will weaken the connective tissue and worsen the condition. The diet should contain protein that is easily digested, such as chicken and fish.
For the patient who is at risk of developing Lymphedema, and for the patient who has developed Lymphedema.
WHO IS AT RISK? At risk is anyone who has had gynecological, melanoma, prostate or kidney cancer in combination with inguinal node dissection and/or radiation therapy. Lymphedema can occur immediately postoperatively, within a few months, a couple of years, or 20 years or more after cancer therapy. With proper education and care, Lymphedema can be avoided or, if it develops, kept under control. (For information regarding other causes of lower extremity Lymphedema, see What is Lymphedema?) The following instructions should be reviewed carefully pre-operatively and discussed with your physician or therapist.
1. Absolutely do not ignore any slight increase of swelling in the toes, foot, ankle, leg, abdomen, genitals (consult with your doctor immediately).
2. Never allow an injection or a blood drawing in the affected leg(s). Wear a LYMPHEDEMA ALERT Necklace.
3. Keep the edemic or at-risk leg spotlessly clean. Use lotion (Eucerin, Lymphoderm, Curel, whatever works best for you) after bathing. When drying it, be gentle, but thorough. Make sure it is dry in any creases and between the toes.
4. Avoid vigorous, repetitive movements against resistance with the affected legs.
5. Do not wear socks, stockings or undergarments with tight elastic bands.
6. Avoid extreme temperature changes when bathing or sunbathing (no saunas or hottubs). Keep the leg(s) protected from the sun.
7. Try to avoid any type of trauma, such as bruising, cuts, sunburn or other burns, sports injuries, insect bites, cat scratches. (Watch for subsequent signs of infection.)
8. When manicuring your toenails, avoid cutting your cuticles (inform your pedicurist).
9. Exercise is important, but consult with your therapist. Do not overtire a leg at risk; if it starts to ache, lie down and elevate it. Recommended exercises: walking, swimming, light aerobics, bike riding, and yoga.
10. When travelling by air, patients with Lymphedema and those at-risk should wear a well-fitted compression stocking. For those with Lymphedema, additional bandages may be required to maintain compression on a long flight. Increase fluid intake while in the air.
11. Use an electric razor to remove hair from legs. Maintain electric razor, properly replacing heads as needed.
12. Patients who have Lymphedema should wear a well-fitted compression stocking during all waking hours. At least every 4-6 months, see your therapist for follow-up. If the stocking is too loose, most likely the leg circumference has reduced or the stocking is worn.
13. Warning: If you notice a rash, itching, redness, pain, increase of temperature or fever, see your physician immediately. An inflammation or infection in the affected leg could be the beginning or a worsening of Lymphedema.
14. Maintain your ideal weight through a well-balanced, low sodium, high-fiber diet. Avoid smoking and alcohol. Lymphedema is a high protein edema, but eating too little protein will not reduce the protein element in the lymph fluid; rather, this may weaken the connective tissue and worsen the condition. The diet should contain easily-digested protein such as chicken, fish or tofu.
15. Always wear closed shoes (high tops or well-fitted boots are highly recommended). No sandals, slippers or going barefoot. Dry feet carefully after swimming.
16. See a podiatrist once a year as prophylaxis (to check for and treat fungi, ingrown toenails, calluses, pressure areas, athelete's foot).
17. Wear clean socks & hosiery at all times.
18. Use talcum powder on feet, especially if you perspire a great deal; talcum will make it easier to pull on compression stockings. Be sure to wear rubber gloves, as well, when pulling on stockings. Powder behind the knee often helps, preventing rubbing and irritation.
Unfortunately, prevention is not a cure. But, as a cancer and/or Lymphedema patient, you are in control of your ongoing cancer checkups and the continued maintenance of your Lymphedema.
Revised © January 2001 National Lymphedema Network. Permission to print out and duplicate this page in its entirety for educational purposes only, not for sale. All other rights reserved. For more information, contact the NLN: 1-800-541-3259.
There is a growing epidemic in the United States, actually it almost might be referred to as a pandemic. That is the skyrocketing incidents of obesity, not only among adults, but also among children.
We are also seeing an increase in reported cases of lymphedema as a secondary condition caused by obesity.
Obesity and especially morbid obesity causes lymphedema by crushing and/or overwhelming the lymphatics.
In an article, “Obesity and cancer: the risks, science, and potential management strategies,” Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD, from the Prevention Center, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA, wrote: “The data from our survey suggests that lymphedema is more severe among those with higher body weight and that infections of the skin were much more common among patients with LE who were overweight. In addition, those who were overweight were more likely to have physical limitations that impaired their ability to conduct daily activities.” If you are not overweight, do all you can to maintain a healthy lifestyle so that you don’t get heavier.
If you are overweight, you must make a concerted effort to reduce your weight. Talk to your therapist and primary care doctor to set up a good regime of exercise and a good diet for you.
For information on healthy dietary ideas and suggestions see The Lymphedema Diet
There have also been studies completed that indicate exercise is good for the prevention of lymphedema. When I first came on line in the lymphedema world, people were horrified when I told them how much activity I did. Other then lymphedema, I have had no other medical problems. My cardiovascular system, cholesterol etc are all in good shape for a person of my age. I personally feel that the active lifestyle in conjunction with not becoming obese or greatly overweight are major reasons for this.
For information of exercises you can do see our page Exercises for Lymphedema
My Life with Lymphedema
Developmental Disorders of the Lymphatics
Edema and Related Medical Conditions
Disorders of the Lymph System
Alternative Medicine and Lymphedema
Merkel Cell Cancer
Clinical Trials Glossary
Immune System Glossary
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Reviewed May 14, 2012