Lymphedema

 

Please call Mastec at 269-373-6223 for a free lymphedema alert bracelet.

Lymphedema is an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the interstitial tissue that causes swelling in the arm. Acquired lymphedema can develop as a result of surgery, radiation, infection, or trauma. The potential is there for it to develop at any time after breast cancer surgery when lymph glands have been removed.

The signs and symptoms of lymphedema are a full sensation in the affected arm, skin feeling tight, decreased flexibility in the hand/wrist, difficulty fitting into clothing in a specific area, or ring/wristwatch/bracelet tightness. If you notice persistent swelling, it is very important that you seek immediate medical advice from a physician.

When lymphedema remains untreated, the swelling in the arm and hardening or fibrosis of the tissue can become a perfect culture medium for bacteria and subsequent lymphangitis (infections). It can also lead to decrease or loss of functioning of the arm, skin breakdown, chronic infections and sometimes irreversible complications.

To help prevent lymphedema use the following precautions:

  • Do not ignore any swelling in the arm, hand, fingers, or chest wall.
  • Never allow an injection, drawing of blood, or blood pressure to be taken in the affected arm.
  • Keep the “at risk” arm spotlessly clean. Use lotions without dyes or perfumes after bathing.
  • Avoid vigorous, repetitive movement against resistance with the affected arm (e.g. scrubbing, pushing, or pulling).
  • Avoid heavy lifting. Never carry handbags or bags with a shoulder strap on the affected arm.
  • Do not wear tight jewelry.
  • Avoid extreme temperature changes.
  • Avoid any type of trauma such as insect bites, pet scratches, and cuts.
  • Wear gloves while doing house/yard work.
  • Do not cut your cuticles. If you have artificial nails, make sure the salon uses instruments that are well disinfected.
  • When traveling by air, always wear a well-fitted compression sleeve.
  • Use an electric razor to remove hair.
  • Exercise is important. Check with your physician.
  • Maintain your ideal weight through a well-balanced, low sodium, high fiber diet.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Use sunscreen with high SPF. Remember that burns are possible on cloudy days.
  • Public swimming pools should be well chlorinated before you go in them.
  • Hot tubs, Jacuzzis, saunas, and steam baths should never be used.
  • Avoid tight clothing.
  • Carry a first aid kit that contains an antibiotic ointment.

High risk activities include:

  • Gardening
  • Tennis/racquetball
  • Bowling
  • Golf
  • Shoveling snow
  • Moving furniture
  • Carrying heavy objects (over 20 #)
  • Scrubbing
  • Weight lifting with arm
  • Intense horse riding (gripping reins)

Medium risk activities include:

  • Jogging, running
  • Biking (use aero-bars, minimize gripping)
  • Stair master with gripping bars on the side
  • NordicTrak (use minimum grip)
  • General weight lifting of rest of body
  • Easy horse riding (hold reins loose)

Beneficial activities include:

  • Swimming
  • Lymphedema exercise program
  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Stairmaster (don’t grip and elevate arms sometimes)
  • Water aerobics
  • Self MLD (manual lymphedema drainage)