It seems to be quite “fashionable” lately for website to put out pages on “How to Prevent Lymphedema.” As a lymphedema patient of almost 60 years, I find it somewhat dishonest (to say the least) for anyone to be claiming a way of doing this. It simply is not true. There is absolutely no scientific or medical evidence to support that claim and it gives false hopes to people who are desperate for some type of hope and help.
You can not absolutely prevent lymphedema if your lymphatic system has been damaged or compromised and you are at risk. The only way to “prevent” lymphedema is to have the lymph systemm regrown or repaired where it has been damaged. But there are certain steps you can take that can that can lessen your chances of getting it or will help lessen the severity of it should it happen.
While it is not possible to prevent lymphedema, you can and should take steps to lesson the possibility and/or to lessen its impact.
Risk Factors for Lymphedema
Who is at risk for lymphedema? Anyone who has one or more of the following factors can acquire lymphedema.
- Deep invasive wounds that might tear, cut or damage the lymphatics
- Radiation treatments, especially ones that are focused in areas that might contain “clusters” of lymph nodes
- Serious burns, even intense sunburn
- Infection of the microscopic parasite filarial larvae, though this is more common in tropical countries
- Trauma injuries such as those experienced in an automobile accident that severly injures the leg and the lymph system.
- For primary lymphedema any person who has a family history of unknown swelling of a limb1. Absolutely do not ignore any slight increase of swelling in the arm, hand, fingers or chest wall (consult with your doctor immediately).2. Never allow an injection or a blood drawing in the affected arm(s).3. Have blood pressure checked in the unaffected arm.4. Keep the edemic arm, or “at-risk” arm spotlessly clean. Use lotion (Eucerin, Nivea) after bathing. When drying it, be gentle, but thorough. Make sure it is dry in any creases and between the fingers.5. Avoid vigorous, repetitive movements against resistance with the affected arm (scrubbing, pushing, pulling).6. Avoid heavy lifting with the affected arm. Never carry heavy handbags or bags with over-the-shoulder straps.7. Do not wear tight jewelry or elastic bands around affected fingers or arm(s).8. Avoid extreme temperature changes when bathing, washing dishes, or sunbathing (no 1sauna or hot tub). Keep the arm protected from the sun.9. Avoid any type of trauma (bruising, cuts, sunburn or other burns, sports injuries, insect bites, cat scratches).10. Wear gloves while doing housework, gardening or any type of work that could result in even a minor injury.11. When manicuring your nails, avoid cutting your cuticles (inform you manicurist).12. Exercise is important, but consult with your therapist. Do not overtire an arm at risk; if it starts to ache, lie down and elevate it. Recommended exercises: walking, swimming, light aerobics, bike riding, and specially designed ballet or yoga. (Do not lift more than 12 lbs.)13. When traveling by air, patients with lymphedema must wear a compression sleeve. Additional bandages may be required on a long flight.14. Patients with large breasts should wear light breast prostheses (heavy prostheses may put too much pressure on the lymph nodes above collar bone). Soft pads may have to be worn under the bra strap. Wear a well-fitted bra that is not too tight and with no wire support.15. Use an electric razor to remove hair from axilla. Maintain electric razor properly replacing heads as needed.16. Patients who have lymphedema should wear a well-fitted compression sleeve during all waking hours. At least every four to six months see your therapist for follow-up. If the sleeve is too loose, most likely the arm circumference has reduced or the sleeve is worn.17. Warning: If you notice a rash, blistering, redness, increase of temperature or fever, see your physician immediately. An inflammation or infection in the affected arm could be the beginning of lymphedema or a worsening of lymphedema.18. Maintain your ideal body weight through a well-balanced, low sodium, high-fiber diet. Avoid smoking and alcoholic beverages. Lymphedema is a high protein edema, but eating too little protein will not reduce the protein element in the lymph fluid; rather this will weaken the connective tissue and worsen the condition. The diet should contain protein that is easily digested, such as chicken and fish.See also: Lymphedema Risk Reduction Practices