Lymphedema Prevention

Lymphedema occurs when a clear fluid known as lymphatic fluid builds up in the soft tissues of your body, usually in an arm or leg.  The most common causes of secondary lymphedema are surgery or radiation treatment for certain types of cancer, such as breast and testicular cancers. Other causes of lymphedema include surgery on the blood vessels in your limbs or other surgical procedures.

Warning Signs

  • Do not ignore any slight increase in swelling in the arm, hand, fingers, leg or chest. If any should occur, consult your doctor.
  • 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 or a worsening of lymphedema.

Avoid the following:

  • Never allow an injection or a blood drawing in the affected limb. Have blood pressure checked in an unaffected limb.
  • Keep the “at-risk” limb spotlessly clean. Use lotion (Eucerin, Nivea) after bathing. When drying , be gentle but thorough. Avoid vigorous, repetitive movements against resistance with the affected limb (scrubbing, pushing, pulling)
  • Avoid heavy lifting with the affected arm. Never carry heavy handbags or bags with over-the-shoulder straps.
  • Avoid extreme temperature changes when bathing, washing dishes, or sun bathing (no sauna or hot tub).
  • Avoid any type of trauma (bruising, cuts, sunburn or other burns, sports injuries, insect bites, cat scratches).
  • Wear gloves while doing housework, gardening and avoid cutting your cuticles (inform your manicurist).
  • Do not wear tight jewelry or elastic bands around affected limbs.

Long-term prevention:

  • Exercise moderately. Do not lift more than 15 pounds. Recommended exercises: walking, swimming, light aerobics, bike riding, and special designed ballet or yoga.
  • When traveling by air wear a compression garment or bandages.
  • Maintain your ideal weight with 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, fish or tofu.
  • Use a well-maintained electric razor to remove hair.