Yes. With proper education and care, lymphedema can be avoided or, if it develops, kept well under control.
One of the most important things you can do is educate yourself about lymphedema and become familiar with its common symptoms. This way if it develops you will be better prepared to recognize it and seek appropriate treatment.
Skin care is by far your best defense against lymphedema. Your skin is your first line of defense against infection, so any skin problems can increase your vulnerabilityóburns, rashes, extreme dryness, bug bites, cuts, splinters, all of these factors can decrease your skinís ability to protect your body. Skin infections can come on quickly. If you develop a fever, rash or experience swelling, redness or tenderness, make sure to let your doctor know as soon as possible. As with all aspects of our health, prevention is your best defense.
Here are some key guidelines for preventing or managing lymphedema:
* Never ignore even the slightest increase of swelling in the arm, hand, fingers, neck or chest wall. Check with your doctor immediately.
* Do not allow an injection, IV or a blood drawing in the affected arm(s). You many even want to consider wearing a lymphedema Medic-alert bracelet.
* If you have to have your blood pressure checked, make sure the nurse or healthcare workers takes the reading on the unaffected arm.
* Always keep the affected or ďat-riskĒ arm clean and well-moisturized.
* Avoid vigorous, repetitive movements against resistance with the affected arm (scrubbing, pushing, pulling).
* Avoid heavy lifting with the affected arm.
* Never carry heavy handbags or bags 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 (no sauna or hot tub). Keep the arm protected from the sun with SPF 30 sunscreen.
* Avoid any type of trauma (bruising, cuts, sunburn or other burns, sports injuries, insect bites, cat scratches).
* Apply antibiotic ointment (like Bactroban) to any insect bites or torn cuticles (as long as you are not allergic to its contents).
* Wear gloves while doing housework, gardening or any type of work that could result in even a minor injury.
* Wear oven mitts when handling hot dishes.
* When manicuring your nails, avoid cutting your cuticles (inform your manicurist).
* Use a thimble when you sew.
* Exercise is important, but be sure to consult with your doctor beforehand. It is important not to over-tire an arm at risk. If the arm does become tire, be sure to lie down and elevate it. Some of the best exercises you can do, include walking, swimming, light aerobics, bike riding, and yoga. (Never lift more than 15 lbs. with the affected arm.)
* When traveling by air, patients with lymphedema (or those at risk) should wear a compression sleeve on the affected arm (if you already have arm swelling) Additional bandages may be required on a long flight. Increase fluid intake while in the air.
* Patients with large breasts should wear light breast prostheses (heavy prostheses may put too much pressure on the lymph nodes above the collar bone). Soft pads may have to be worn under the bra strap. Wear a well-fitted bra: not too tight and with no wire support.
* Use an electric razor to remove hair from under your arm pits. Make sure to change the blades frequently.
* Maintain your ideal weight with a well-balanced, low sodium, high-fiber diet.
* Donít smoke.
* Avoid alcoholic beverages.
* Avoid very hot baths, hot tubs, saunas and steam baths.
* Donít apply heating pads or hot compresses to the arm, neck, shoulder or arm on the affected side. Also, be cautious of other heat-producing treatments provided by physical, occupational, or massage therapists, such as ultrasound, whirlpool, fluidotherapy, or deep tissue massage. Heat and vigorous massage encourage the body to send extra fluid into the compromised area.