Lymphedema happens when your arm or leg swells, usually after you have lymph node removal surgery. Although it’s a common complication after cancer surgery, it isn't limited to cancer surgery. You can develop lymphedema after any surgery or infection.
Because it’s common 一 affecting 1 in 1,000 Americans 一 you should learn how to reduce your risk of lymphedema, especially if you’re planning an upcoming surgery.
Our board-certified podiatrists and board-certified wound care specialists at Advanced Foot, Ankle, & Wound Specialists are experts when it comes to diagnosing and treating lymphedema.
Here is what you need to know about preventing lymphedema.
1. Protect your skin
If you develop an infection, your body creates more fluid to help fight the infection, but if you’ve had your lymph nodes removed, the extra fluid is problematic. You can reduce your risk of developing lymphedema by protecting your skin and reducing your risk of infections and burns.
You should also keep your skin moisturized to prevent dry or chaffed skin. Dry or chaffed skin can crack and increase your risk of infection.
Other ways to protect your skin include:
- Wearing sunscreen
- Washing your hands
- Keeping your nails short to avoid accidentally scratching your skin
- Wearing protective gloves when clearing or gardening
If you receive a nick, cut, or scratch, apply a topical antibacterial cream and cover any cuts with a clean bandage.
Tip: Consider using an electric shaver to reduce your risk of nicking yourself while shaving.
2. Avoid tight clothing and heavy purses
Tight clothing and jewelry can restrict your movement. Choose loose clothing that allows free movement. This also includes nightgowns with elastic cuffs as well as undergarments, including bras, especially if you’ve had your lymph nodes removed for the treatment of breast cancer.
Anything that compresses your affected limb can increase your risk of lymphedema, including taking your blood pressure. For instance, if you’ve had lymph nodes removed in both arms, we recommend taking your blood pressure on your thigh or ankle.
Carrying a heavy purse on one arm can also increase your risk of lymphedema. Instead, switch to a smaller pocketbook or a backpack-style purse.
3. Perform any prescribed exercises
After your surgery, you may be discharged with instructions to perform certain exercises. If so, continue to perform any prescribed exercises. This can help encourage lymph fluid drainage and prevent lymphedema.
4. Try lymphatic massage
Lymphatic massage helps reduce swelling, promote fluid drainage, and boost circulation throughout your entire lymphatic system. Lymph massage isn’t right for everyone, especially those with congestive heart failure or liver problems.
At Advanced Foot, Ankle, & Wound Specialists, we can answer your questions about lymphatic massage during your appointment.
What if you spot the signs of lymphedema?
Lymphedema can cause swelling, tightness, and a reduced range of motion in your affected limb. For some people, the swelling is mild, but for others, it can severely affect your ability to use your arm or leg properly.
Although you can take steps to reduce your risk of lymphedema, it’s not possible to avoid it completely. Thankfully, there are treatments available that can help you regain function in your limb.
Left untreated, lymphedema can cause potentially serious complications, so seek treatment as soon as you spot these signs.
Potential treatments include lymphatic massage, pneumatic compression, wrapping the affected limb, and in some cases, surgery.
If you suspect you have lymphedema, request an appointment at the location of your choice: Tamarac, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Coral Springs, or Boca Raton, Florida.