Living with Lymphedema

Posted by BC MedEquip on

Exercise regularly and eat properly

  • Always check with your doctor first before starting a new exercise program.
  •  Discontinue any exercise that causes unexpected pain. If your arm or leg (on the side where you had surgery) becomes tired during exercise, cool down, then rest and elevate it.

Avoid infections

  • Wear gloves while doing housework or gardening.
  •  Avoid cutting your cuticles when manicuring your nails. Use care when cutting your toenails.
  •  Frequently wash your hands
  • Protect your skin from scratches, sores, burns and other irritations that might lead to infection.
  • Use electric razors to remove hair and replace the razor head frequently.
  • Use insect repellents to prevent bug bites.
  • Immediately report any signs of infection to your physician.

Stay alert for signs of infection

  • Fever over 100 degrees F (38 degrees C)
  • Sweats or chills
  • Skin rash
  • Pain, tenderness, redness or swelling
  • Wound or cut that won't heal
  •  Red, warm or draining sore
  • Flu-like symptoms (chills, aches, headache or fatigue) or generally feeling "lousy" 

Avoid tight clothing, shoes or jewelry

  • Women should wear well-fitted bras; bra straps should not be too tight, avoid underwire styles, and wear pads under the bra straps if necessary. Wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes and avoid tight hosiery. Wear watches or jewelry loosely, if at all, on the affected arm.

Avoid heavy lifting with the affected arm (even a purse or bag)

  • Also avoid repetitive movements of the affected arm (such as scrubbing, pushing or pulling). Do not carry a purse or bag on your shoulder (the side where you had surgery).

Keep your skin meticulously clean

  • Dry your skin thoroughly (including creases and between fingers and toes) and apply lotion.

Take precautions during visits to your doctor

  • Ask to have your blood pressure checked on the unaffected arm. And avoid injections or blood drawing on the surgical side if possible.

Inform your doctor of any symptoms

  • Notify your doctor if you have redness, swelling, a skin rash or blistering on the side of your body where you had surgery, or if you have a temperature over 100 degrees F (38 degrees C). These warning signs of infection could be an early sign of lymphedema and should be treated immediately
  • Avoid extreme temperature changes. Do not use hot tubs, whirlpools, saunas or steam baths. Use warm, rather than very hot, water when bathing or washing dishes. Always wear sun protection (at least SPF 15) when going outdoors.
  • When traveling by air, ask your health care provider if you should wear a compression sleeve on your affected arm or a stocking on your affected leg. For long flights, additional bandages may be needed. Talk to your health care provider before traveling.
  • When sitting or sleeping, elevate your affected arm or leg on pillows. Avoid prolonged lying on your affected side.
  • Your doctor may refer you to a physiotherapist, massage therapist, or occupational therapist who specializes in managing lymphedema. The therapist will assess your condition and develop an individual treatment plan to manage your lymphedema.
  • Therapy may include specific exercises or a complete exercise program, limitation of certain activities that are vigorous or repetitive, and recommendations for a compression sleeve, bandages, manual lymph drainage and possibly a pump.

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