Health Issue: Lymphedema
Living Your Life
Copyright by the Society for Vascular Surgery and NorthPoint Domain.
If you are at risk for developing lymphedema, you can act to prevent it. Initially, if you have mild lymphedema, you can act to keep the condition from worsening. You can take the following precautions to prevent or minimize symptoms:
- Clean your affected limb regularly. Remember to dry it thoroughly and apply lotion
- Wear gloves while gardening and cooking
- If you shave the affected area, use an electric razor
- Don't go barefoot
- Do not cross your legs when you sit
- Do not carry a handbag with your affected arm.
In addition, if you are at risk for lymphedema, avoid having injections and blood pressure readings performed on your affected limb. You can also wear a special bracelet or necklace to notify medical personnel of your risk for lymphedema and the risk for complications, such as infection.
Physicians have not agreed about how to best treat chronic lymphedema. Some people have benefited from manual lymphatic drainage. This treatment uses massage to stimulate your weakened lymphatic system. Other treatment methods include special exercises that you can do while wearing compression stockings or bandages, and the use of external pumps to aid the movement of fluid through your body. A treatment that combines these treatments with lifestyle changes is called complex decongestive therapy.
Medication cannot cure lymphedema. However, your physician may prescribe medications to treat associated conditions. For example, antibiotics play an important role in combating infections that can worsen lymphedema.
Your physician may recommend surgery to remove excess tissue if your limb becomes so large and heavy that it interferes with your ability to move it.
Treating your lymphedema requires your participation. Because lymphedema can be very painful, you may benefit from individual counseling. You can also join support groups that provide practical advice as well as social and emotional support.