If you’ve been diagnosed with lymphedema, there are helpful, precautionary measures that can be taken in order to limit worsening of symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.
● Use your arm as you normally do as much as possible, including when styling your hair, washing, dressing, and eating.
● Start doing the exercises your lymphedema therapist showed you how to do. These exercises will help you regain your shoulder and arm range of motion.
● Try to avoid infection and burns. If you have an infection or burn, your body makes extra fluid to fight it. If you’ve had lymph nodes removed, it can be harder for your body to transport this extra fluid and this can cause lymphedema. Taking good care of your skin and practicing good hygiene can help reduce your risk of lymphedema by avoiding infection or a burn.
● If possible, have blood drawn, injections, IVs, and vaccinations given in your unaffected arm. You also can have vaccinations or flu shots given in another area on your body, such as your hip. Tell your doctor or nurse that you’re at risk for lymphedema.
● Moisturize your hands and cuticles regularly with lotion or cream. Push your cuticles back with a stick rather than cutting them with scissors. Avoid professional manicures.
● Keep your hand and arm clean, but don’t use harsh soaps that can dry out your skin. Wash and protect any cuts, scrapes, insect bites or hangnails. Use antibacterial cream or ointment on any open cuts or sores and cover them with a bandage.
● Wear protective gloves when doing your household chores such as washing dishes, general cleaning, or yard work.
● Use an electric shaver instead of a razor.
● Use insect repellents that won’t dry out the skin. Avoid brands that contain a significant amount of alcohol. (Any ingredient that ends in “ol” is a type of alcohol.) If you’re stung by a bee or wasp in the affected arm, clean the bite area, elevate your arm, apply ice and call your doctor if you think it might be infected.
● Use a thimble when you sew, to avoid pricking yourself.
● Protect your arm from sunburn with sunscreen. Use a product with a minimum SPF of 15.
● Wear oven mitts when handling hot foods.
● Avoid extreme hot to cold water temperature changes when you bathe or wash dishes.
● Don’t use heating pads or hot compresses on the arm, neck, shoulder, or back on the affected side. Also, be cautious of other heat-producing treatments provided by physical, occupational, or massage therapists, such as ultrasound, whirlpool, fluidotherapy, or deep tissue massage. Heat and vigorous massage encourage the body to send extra fluid into the compromised area.
● Try to avoid squeezing your arm. This can increase the pressure in nearby blood vessels, which can lead to swelling. Lymphedema also has been associated with air travel, possibly because of low cabin pressure.
● Avoid tight clothes and jewelry that restrain your movement.
● Don’t carry heavy shoulder bags on the affected side.
● Don’t carry heavy objects with your at-risk arm, especially with the arm hanging downward.
● Have your blood pressure taken on the unaffected arm. If both arms are affected, have your blood pressure taken on your thigh. Tell your healthcare provider that you’re at risk for lymphedema.
● Avoid alcohol. Alcohol causes blood vessels to expand and leak extra fluid into the tissues.
● Don’t smoke. Smoking narrows the small blood vessels, making it harder for fluids to flow out of your arm.
● Maintain a healthy weight. Extra fat in the arm needs more blood vessels, which puts more fluid in the arm and makes more work for the lymph vessels that are still there. Some research has shown that gaining weight after mastectomy is linked to a higher risk of lymphedema.
Lymphedema Therapy Specialists For Hand and Arm
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