Lymphedema: Managing Lymphedema


Lymphedema may develop if you have lymph nodes removed or have radiation therapy as part of cancer treatment.

  • Watch for symptoms, such as feeling that your clothes or rings are too tight.
  • Keep lymph fluid moving. This may include propping up your limb when you can and using massage and exercise, if your doctor recommends it.
  • Learn how to protect and care for your affected arm or leg. This can include using gloves or always wearing shoes and knowing how to treat injuries like cuts or bug bites.

How can you manage lymphedema?

Watch for symptoms

Symptoms of lymphedema include feeling as though your clothes, rings, wristwatches, or bracelets are too tight. You may have a feeling of fullness in your arms or legs and less flexibility in your wrists, hands, and ankles.

Keep lymph fluid moving

If you have lymphedema, it's important to try to keep the lymph fluid moving so that it doesn't collect in your arm or leg.

  • Prop up your arm or leg.

    When you sit or lie down, try to keep your limb above the level of your heart by propping it on a pillow.

  • Try to limit the use of a blood pressure cuff on your affected arm.

    If you're in the hospital, tell your nurse and other hospital staff about your condition.

  • If your leg is affected, try not to cross your legs when you sit.

    Don't sit in one position longer than 30 minutes.

  • Wear loose clothing around the affected limb.

    For example, don't wear shirts with elastic cuffs. And don't wear any tight clothing. (This does not include compression garments.)

  • Follow your doctor's advice about exercise.

    Exercises can help drain the lymph fluid. Your doctor may recommend wearing a compression bandage or garment, especially while exercising or doing activities that might increase swelling.

  • See a health professional, such as a physical therapist, trained to manage lymphedema.

    Health professionals who specialize in lymphedema management can teach you special massages to help move fluid out of your arm or leg. You also can learn what activities are best for you.

Protect your affected arm or leg

If you have lymphedema, there are things you can do to protect your arm or leg from injury and infection.

  • Learn how to treat injuries.

    Ask your doctor how to treat any cuts, scratches, insect bites, or other injuries that you may get.

  • Avoid sunburns and bug bites.

    Use sunscreen and insect repellent to protect your skin from sunburn and insect bites.

  • Avoid any injections on your affected limb.

    Protect your arm or leg from needle injections, such as blood draws or shots. This includes chemotherapy. If you are in the hospital, make sure that your nurse and other hospital staff know about your condition.

  • Protect your hands.

    Wear gloves when you garden or do other activities that may lead to cuts on your fingers and hands.

  • Keep your feet clean.

    Wear clean socks or stockings every day.

  • Protect your feet.

    Don't walk barefoot, especially outside.

  • Check your feet.

    Check often for cuts, blisters, or signs of infection.

  • Take good care of your skin and nails.

    Use a moisturizer or a mild soap that has a moisturizer. Skin that is dry and cracked can get infected. Be careful when you clip your nails. And don't cut your cuticles.

  • Be careful when shaving.

    Use an electric razor if you shave an arm or leg that is affected.

  • Watch for problems.

    Call your doctor at the first sign of a rash or inflammation on your arm or leg.

  • Consider using a special stocking or sleeve.

    Follow your doctor's advice about wearing a special bandage or compression garment. These specially fitted stockings or sleeves are designed to help keep fluid from pooling in the leg or arm.

  • Don't use heating pads on the area.

    Also avoid saunas and hot tubs. Heat may increase the blood flow and make swelling worse.

  • Don't overuse your arm or leg right after a surgery.

    But check with your doctor to see when it's okay to exercise that part of your body.


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