Lymphedema Self Care at Home
While visiting a doctor for a lymphedema diagnosis is an important first step, lymphedema self care can help you manage your symptoms at home.
Living with lymphedema means reducing swelling and other symptoms to prevent the condition from progressing and causing complications. Your lifestyle choices can have an impact on the severity of your symptoms, and certain lifestyle choices can make lymphedema significantly worse. So, what should you not do with lymphedema? In this article, we’ll talk about what to avoid with lymphedema and how to keep swelling and other symptoms in check. Read on to find out what you need to know about lymphedema and how to manage it.
Lymphedema is a medical condition that occurs as a result of damage to the lymphatic system, which can lead to a buildup of fluid that causes swelling. Your lymphatic system is located right below your skin’s surface and consists of a series of lymph nodes and vessels that carry a fluid called lymph, which helps balance fluid levels in your body and transport cells that fight infections. When a lymph node or vessel is damaged, it can inhibit the flow of lymph and lead to a buildup of fluid in that area of the body. This results in the swelling you experience with lymphedema.
While lymphedema itself isn’t a medical emergency, it can lead to numerous complications. Lymphedema can also impact your quality of life, especially as you get older. Understanding lifestyle choices and activities to avoid with lymphedema can help you minimize these complications to live a more well-balanced, pain-free life.
Lymphedema is caused by lymphatic dysfunction that interrupts the flow of fluid — but what causes lymphatic dysfunction? Some people get lymphedema as a result of their genetics, known as primary lymphedema, while others may develop lymphedema later in life from damage to their lymphatic system, known as secondary lymphedema. Here are some of the most common causes of lymphedema:
Preventing the progression of lymphedema is crucial, which means you need to be aware of things to avoid with lymphedema. Certain activities and lifestyle choices can aggravate lymphedema and cause it to progress over time, especially if you’re not taking any measures to manage your symptoms. So, what should you not do with lymphedema? Check out our list of what to avoid below.1,2
Tight clothing and jewelry
Because lymphedema can cause significant swelling, tight clothing and jewelry make the list of things to avoid with lymphedema. Tight clothing and jewelry can constrict blood and lymphatic vessels, which can make your lymphedema symptoms worse, as well as cause discomfort. Depending on the severity of the swelling, you may even have a difficult time removing jewelry that you’ve been wearing for extended periods of time. Instead, opt for clothing that fits a bit more loosely and comfortably, and try bracelets and necklaces that stretch instead of metal jewelry.
When you spend too much time in the sun and get a sunburn, you can make lymphedema-related swelling even worse. Additionally, sunburn causes damage to your skin, and depending on the severity of your sunburn, it can cause your skin to crack or blister. When this occurs, you can become more prone to infection, which can further worsen lymphedema symptoms. Try to avoid spending too much time in direct sunlight, and make sure you apply sunscreen and wear protective clothing if you do.
Patients with lymphedema are more prone to skin infections, which can cause symptoms to progress. When swelling occurs as a result of lymphedema, the skin can stretch and become more brittle, causing cracks and blisters. These skin problems can make it easier for infections to enter your body, which affects not only your lymphedema symptoms but your overall health. These infections can also lead to cellulitis, which is an infection in the deep layer of your skin called the dermis. To prevent skin infections, keep your skin clean by washing it with mild soap and warm water, avoid cuts and scratches, and perform proper nail care.
Numerous injuries can cause complications for lymphedema patients, but cuts and scrapes are a particularly big concern. Even a minor injury can lead to lymphedema complications, so there are certain activities to avoid with lymphedema, such as rigorous exercise or handling sharp objects. However, you want to stay active and healthy without putting yourself at risk for injuries that could lead to infection, so consult with your doctor or therapist for recommended activities.
Blood drawn or shots in the affected arm
A sterile blood draw or a shot in the affected arm can lead to complications for lymphedema patients. If you’re experiencing swelling as a result of lymphedema, make sure you talk to your doctor before you receive any shots or have your blood drawn. Preventing infections is one of the most important things you can do to keep your lymphedema under control, and any needles or finger pricks can create an easy opening for bacteria to enter.
Heavy lifting that causes strain can make swelling worse, so your doctor or specialist may recommend avoiding heavy weightlifting or using lighter weights if you have lymphedema. If your job involves a lot of heavy lifting, you may want to look for another position within the company or find a way to reduce the strain on your body. You can always talk to your doctor about your heavy lifting and whether it’s appropriate with lymphedema.
Staying active and maintaining a healthy weight is a great way to reduce lymphedema symptoms, but you should avoid particularly rigorous exercise. Swelling from lymphedema means your body may not be able to handle the body-intense workouts, so don’t push yourself too hard if you don’t feel comfortable exercising with lymphedema. You can work with a physical therapist to develop a low-intensity training program.
In terms of what to avoid with lymphedema, needles are a top concern. As tempting as it may be to add to your collection of body art, you should avoid getting new tattoos in any area if you have lymphedema, as ink from tattoos can travel through the lymphatics to compromised areas. Tattoos can lead to infection, which can cause serious complications.
There is no cure for lymphedema, but you can take steps to reduce symptoms and prevent complications. To manage your lymphedema, here are some things to try:1
You have several options when it comes to managing your lymphedema, and knowing what to avoid with lymphedema is a great place to start. If you need help getting relief from lymphedema at home, the Flexitouch Plus System from Tactile Medical can help. This pneumatic compression system is available for your lower body, upper body, and your head and neck. You can use the Flexitouch Plus System to get relief from swelling at home, plus it only takes a few minutes. Check out the Flexitouch Plus System to learn how you can get at-home lymphedema relief today.
1. Johnson Hopkins Medicine. Treating Lymphedema. Hopkinsmedicine.org. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/treating-lymphedema
2. American Cancer Society. For People at Risk of Lymphedema. Cancer.org. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/lymphedema/for-people-at-risk-of-lymphedema.html