Risk Reduction Advice to patients with Lymphoedema or a limb at risk
It is important that you learn as much as you can about how to manage your own lymphoedema, and minimize your risks..
Enjoy your activities, just be aware of factors that could cause or increase Lymphoedema
Infections are one of the biggest factors causing lymphoedema to worsen and advance through the grades and stages described above. It is vital to minimize the risk of getting an infection.
Daily cleansing and moisturising of your arm or leg is important to keep the skin clean, soft and supple and to reduce the risk of cellulitis (skin infection). Cracked, dry or broken skin can be an entry point for infection
Wear rubber gloves for housework and long sleeves and protective gloves when gardening.
Infections could result from cuts, injections, insect bites, scratches, burns or sunburn.
Treat any possible infection promptly by washing with soap and water and apply an antiseptic or antibiotic cream.
If the area becomes painful, red or swollen, rash appears or you have a temperature or flu-like symptoms, seek medical help immediately.
Any trauma to your limb that is at risk can overload your lymphatic system’s ability to compensate. Never allow anyone to take bloods, give injections or drips, or take blood pressure from your affected limb. Bloods, injections and blood pressure measurements can be done using other limbs that are not at risk. Please be assertive where possible.
Excess weight may slow the lymph flow. Mostly if overweight people lose some of their excess weight, they will notice a decrease (not cure) in their lymphoedema. Conversely, if a person with lymphoedema gains weight, they will see an increase in their lymphoedema as well. It is important to eat well, healthily and aim for your ideal body weight.
Too little or too much exercise:
Muscle movement increases lymph flow and reduces the risk of fluids accumulating. It is better to do gentle regular exercise than occasional bursts of intense exercise. Increasing the intensity or weight during exercise should be done very slowly and by observing any effect on the swelling. Swimming is excellent exercise for people with lymphoedema. Find it is most important to find the exercise routine which suits you.
Other factors are:
Overheating your body: Sun, hot baths, spas, saunas, excessive exercise, sprains, bruises – all these cause lymph flow to increase and may overload the lymph vessels
Travelling: Sitting still on long car or bus trips and pressure variations in planes may reduce lymph flow. Prolonged standing, sitting or crossing legs will do so in those with a leg at risk. Support garment and simple movement will assist
Holding heavy parcels: This can reduce lymph flow from an arm at risk. Work up to carrying heavy items, check for swelling, find out what suits you
Avoid constrictions to the limb: e.g. Blood pressure cuffs, tourniquets, narrow bra straps, tight clothes, tight jewellery or watches may reduce lymph flow.