If you have had
lymph nodes removed or have had
radiation as part of cancer treatment, you can take
steps to avoid
lymphedema. If you already have lymphedema, you can
take steps to keep it from getting worse.
Learn how to recognize infection and what you
need to do every day to prevent it.
Learn how to exercise right to
help the circulation in an arm or leg that is affected.
to protect an arm or leg that is affected.
Take good care of your
skin and nails.
How to manage lymphedema
Know the symptoms
Learn to recognize symptoms of lymphedema so that you can get treatment right away. Symptoms include:
Feeling as though your clothes, rings, or other
jewelry are too tight.
A feeling of fullness in your arm or
Less flexibility in your wrist, hand, or ankle.
Heaviness and swelling of the chest area where the breast was removed.
Keep lymph fluid moving
Do all you can to help keep the lymph fluid moving so that it doesn't collect in your arm or leg.
Prop up your arm or leg on a pillow anytime you
sit or lie down. Try to keep the limb above the level of your heart whenever
Try to limit the use of a
blood pressure cuff on your affected arm. If you are
in the hospital, make sure that your nurse and other hospital staff know about
If your leg is affected, try not to cross your legs
when you sit. Don't sit in one position longer than 30
Keep your clothing loose around the limb that is affected.
For example, don't wear shirts with elastic cuffs. Wear the right size panty
hose and stockings. Don't wear garters or knee-high or thigh-high
Don't use heating pads on the area. And stay out of
saunas and hot tubs. Heat may increase the blood flow and make swelling
Be careful not to overuse your arm or leg right after your surgery. But check with your doctor to see when it is okay to exercise that part of your body.
doctor's advice about what daily exercises you should do. Exercises can help
drain the lymph fluid.
physical therapist. He or she can teach you how to do
special massages that can help move fluid out of your arm or leg. You also can
learn what activities would be best for you.
Protect your arm or leg
Do all you can to protect your arm or leg from injury and infection.
Ask your doctor how to treat any cuts,
scratches, insect bites, or other injuries that you may get.
sunscreen and insect repellent to protect your skin from sunburn and insect
Protect your arm or leg from needle injections—no blood
draws or shots, including
chemotherapy. If you are in the hospital, make sure
that your nurse and other hospital staff know about your
Wear gloves when you garden or do other activities that
may lead to cuts on your fingers and hands. Use a thimble when you
Keep your feet clean, and wear clean socks or stockings every
Don't walk barefoot, especially outside.
your feet often for cuts, blisters, or signs of infection.
good care of your skin and nails. Use a mild soap that has a moisturizer, or
use a moisturizer separately. Skin that is dry and cracked can get infected. Be
careful when you clip your nails. Don't cut your cuticles.
electric razor if you shave an arm or leg that is affected.
your doctor at the first sign of a rash or inflammation on your arm or
Follow your doctor's advice about wearing a special bandage or compression garment. These specially fitted stockings or sleeves are designed to help keep fluid from pooling in the leg or arm.
National Cancer Institute (2011). Lymphedema PDQ—Health Professional Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/lymphedema/healthprofessional.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerWendy Y. Chen, MD, MPH, MD, MPH - Medical Oncology, Hematology Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
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