10 Steps to Prevent Lymphedema
Every year, there are more than 200,000 cases of lymphedema. Lymphedema is a painful and progressive disorder that occurs when there is a blockage in the lymphatic system, which is a part of the immune and circulatory systems. Common causes of lymphedema are the removal of lymph nodes or damage to lymph nodes due to cancer treatment, such as radiation.
Some Houston breast cancer patients and survivors experience upper extremity lymphedema, in which lymph fluid collects in the arms rather than draining normally through the lymphatic system. Lymphedema patients notice that the affected arm is noticeably heavier and larger than usual.
Although there is no known cure for lymphedema, a lymphedema bypass or vascular lymph node transfer may help treat the disease. As a Houston cancer patient or survivor, and you’ve had lymph nodes removed or radiated as part of your cancer treatment, there are also several steps you can take to prevent lymphedema from happening to you.
1) Take Care of Your Skin.
Excellent skin care is an important part of preventing lymphedema from occurring in your case. If you’ve had lymph nodes radiated or removed, make sure that you keep the affected arm moisturized. Also, when outdoors frequently apply sunscreen and insect repellant.
2) Avoid Cuts and Scrapes
Use care to prevent punctures to your skin, which can lead to infection. Tips include using an electric razor, having blood draws taken from your unaffected arm and wearing gloves when performing activities that may cause small cuts on your hands, like gardening.
3) Rest Your Arm While Recovering from Cancer Treatment
Stretching and light exercise are encouraged for cancer patients, but it’s important that you don’t push yourself too hard. If your cancer treatment plan has included treatment to the lymph nodes in one of your arms, you should rest your arm until you’ve recovered from your treatment.
4) Keep Your Arm Elevated
To avoid swelling, keep your arm elevated at heart level as much as possible.
5) Gradually Build Up to Your Normal Routines
Many Houston cancer patients and survivors just want to return to their everyday life as soon as possible. But, you have to take special care to prevent lymphedema from happening to you. Once cleared for exercise by your doctor, you should gradually resume your regular activity, scheduling frequent breaks for your upper extremities. And always monitor your arms during and after physical activity for changes in size, shape, and firmness.
6) Avoid Limb Constriction
It’s important that you do not constrict your arms to prevent normal blood flow or drainage of the lymphatic system. Therefore, Houston cancer patients and survivors should wear loose garments and jewelry. You should also have your blood pressure taken from your unaffected arm.
7) Wear Compression Garments at Certain Times
If you’re going to be traveling by air or performing a strenuous activity that can cause swelling, such as weight lifting, you should wear compression garments on your affected arm(s).
8) Avoid Extreme Temperatures
If you’re a Houston cancer patient or survivor at risk for lymphedema, you should avoid extreme temperatures. Extreme cold can cause rebound swelling or chapping of the skin, so dress warmly if it’s cold outside, and don’t place ice packs on your arm. Likewise, you should avoid extreme heat such as hot tubs, saunas, or submerging your arm in water of 102 degrees or warmer for more than 15 minutes.
9) Treat Cuts Immediately
If you do happen to cut or puncture your affected arm, make sure that you treat it with antibacterial cream and bandages immediately.
10) Don’t Carry Heavy Items Over Your Affected Shoulder
Pack a lightweight purse, or carry your heavy purse or bag on your other shoulder.
What Do I Do If I Suspect I Have Lymphedema?
If you suspect you have lymphedema, contact your doctor immediately. Also, schedule a consultation with Dr. Fusi & Dr. Craig in their Houston office at 713-322-6073 to learn about new lymphedema treatment options.