March is Lymphedema Awareness Month! I want to give you some easy tips and guidelines to keep in mind, as you embark on your individual health journeys.
Lymphedema (High Protein Edema) is the swelling of the subcutaneous tissues caused by obstruction of the lymphatic drainage. Lymphedema results from fluid accumulation and may emerge from surgery, radiation or the presence of a tumor in the area of the lymph nodes, i.e. when lymph vessels are missing or damaged, or when lymph nodes are removed.
If you've had or are going to have cancer surgery, ask your doctor whether your procedure will involve your lymph nodes or lymph vessels. Ask if your radiation treatment will be aimed at lymph nodes, so you'll be aware of the possible risks.
Risk Factors for Lymphedema:
- Congenital causes
- Surgery (unrelated to cancer)
- Surgery (related to cancer)
- Sentinel lymph node biopsy
- Scar tissue
- Changes in Elevation
Some early signs of Lymphedema can be:
- Puffiness or swelling of your hand or arm
- Clothing, bra, or jewelry feel tighter than usual
- Jewelry or clothing leave a dent or mark on your skin
- A feeling of fullness in your breast, chest, or arm
- A sensation of heaviness or fatigue in your arm
- An area of your skin that is red or warm to the touch
To reduce your risk of Lymphedema, try to:
- Wash any cuts with soap and water.
- Wear gloves while gardening, doing dishes, or housework.
- Protect yourself from insect bites.
- Use skin cream or body oils to avoid chapped, dry, or broken skin.
- Avoid sunburns, use sunblock with an SPF of 30 or more, like Coola Organic Sunscreen
- Avoid scratches or bites from pets.
- Be careful with sharp objects or edges.
- Do not cut your cuticles (the skin around your nails) during a manicure or pedicure. Tip: Push back the nail cuticles instead.
- Choose a nail salon that is clean and uses sterile instruments. Tip: Some people bring their own instruments with them, i.e. nail clippers, file, cuticle pusher.
- Avoid repeated punctures of the skin on the treated side, i.e. blood tests or finger sticks to check blood sugars. Contact your health care provider if an area of your arm or chest becomes red, painful or swollen, or if you have fever or chills. These symptoms can be signs of infection.
- Rest your arm or leg while recovering. After cancer treatment, exercise and stretching are encouraged. But avoid strenuous activity until you've recovered from surgery or radiation.
- Avoid heat on your arm or leg. Don't apply ice or heat, such as with a heating pad, to your affected limb. Also, protect your affected limb from extreme cold.
- Elevate your arm or leg. Whenever possible, elevate your affected limb above the level of your heart.
- Avoid anything that could constrict your arm or leg, such as tightfitting clothing and, in the case of your arm, blood pressure cuffs. Ask that your blood pressure be taken in your other arm.
If you do not have Lymphedema, there is no evidence that you need to wear a compression sleeve as “prevention” when traveling.
If you have Lymphedema, use your compression sleeve when flying. A great resource to check out is Lymph Divas!
As the length of flights and frequency of travel varies, you should discuss the use of a compression sleeve with your physician, nurse, or physical therapist
Developing Lymphedema is a possibility, but it is not a certainty. Be mindful but not fearful about using your affected limb. As always discuss your questions with your doctor, nurse, or physical therapist, no question is too small!
Hollie M. Swart, LFT, OTE