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  • What Should You Not Do With Lymphedema?

What Should You Not Do With Lymphedema?

what to avoid with lymphedema
what to avoid with lymphedema

What Should You Not Do With Lymphedema?

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.

What Is Lymphedema?
What Causes Lymphedema?
What Should You Avoid With Lymphedema?
How Do You Treat Lymphedema?
Manage Lymphedema At Home With Tactile Medical

What Is Lymphedema?

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.

What Causes Lymphedema?

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:

Causes of lymphedema

  • Cancer: Cancer can spread to nearly every inch of your body, which includes your lymphatic system. Cancer that affects your lymphatic system can cause damage to lymph nodes and vessels, blocking the flow of lymph and leading to lymphedema.
  • Cancer surgery: Surgery for cancer may involve removing lymph nodes, which can lead to lymphatic dysfunction. If you’ve had lymph nodes removed, keep in mind that you may be at a higher risk for lymphedema. You may want to talk to your doctor about how to reduce the risk of lymphedema if you’re having cancer surgery.
  • Radiation therapy: Cancer patients may also experience lymphedema as a result of radiation therapy. Radiation therapy can be damaging to tissues in the area of treatment, including the lymphatic system, which can lead to lymphatic disfunction.
  • Obesity: Obesity can also cause damage to the lymphatic system that may lead to lymphedema. Managing your weight is an essential part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and it can also help you reduce your lymphedema symptoms. If you’re overweight, consider talking to your doctor about lifestyle and dietary changes you can make.
  • Acute trauma or injury: Acute trauma and injuries to lymph nodes and vessels may lead to lymphedema. Examples can include burns, car accidents, and injuries like breaking a bone. It’s important to visit a doctor to have any serious injuries checked out, especially near lymph nodes.
  • Vascular disease: Vascular diseases, such as chronic venous insufficiency, can lead to swelling and take a toll on the lymphatic system by contributing to the buildup of fluid in tissue.
  • Blood clots: Blood clots, also known as deep vein thrombosis, may lead to lymphatic system damage and lymphedema. If you’re experiencing symptoms of a blood clot or lymphedema, visit a doctor as soon as possible for a diagnosis.
  • Genetics: Some people can be born with lymphedema due to alterations in their genes that cause changes to their lymphatic system. This type of lymphedema is known as hereditary or primary lymphedema.

What Should You Avoid With 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

What to avoid with lymphedema

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.

Skin infections
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
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.

Rigorous exercise
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.

New tattoos
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.

How Do You Treat Lymphedema?

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

  • Light exercise: Light exercise can help you manage your weight and reduce swelling. A good place to start is with light household chores or a walk around the block. Additional options for low impact activity or exercise could include yoga or swimming. You can work with your doctor or physical therapist to create an exercise routine that works for you.
  • Healthy weight: Maintaining a healthy weight helps you stay healthy and educe the progression of lymphedema, so eating nutritious meals and exercising are essential.
  • Compression garments: Compression garments for lymphedema can reduce swelling by using gentle compression to direct the flow of lymph. Talk to your doctor before wearing compression garments to ensure they’re right for you.
  • Pneumatic compression devices: Pneumatic compression devices use pneumatic compression to guide lymph away from swollen areas of the body, giving you an alternative to compression garments. Talk with your doctor to see if a pneumatic compression device is right for you.
  • Manual lymphatic drainage: Manual lymphatic drainage massages can be performed at home in a few simple steps. You can talk to your doctor or lymphedema specialist to learn how to use this technique.

Manage Lymphedema At Home With Tactile Medical

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