Top 4 Ways to Prevent Lymphedema

by Dr Amit Jotwani

Imagine what happens when the drain in your sink gets clogged? There is build-up of water left with nowhere to go. This is what happens in Lymphedema.

The lymph nodes of our body are the drains that remove excess lymph fluid. If your lymph nodes do not work well, or if they have been removed during cancer surgery, the excess fluid gets retained in that body part. This leads to swelling. 

swelling in hand after breast cancer surgery

The most common areas for this type of swelling are arms and legs. The swelling may develop quickly, or over months. 

What causes lymphedema?

  • If your tumour is big enough to block a lymph node, it can lead to lymphedema.  
  • Sometimes lymph nodes are removed during surgery to remove cancer, leading to lymphedema.
  • Radiation therapy can damage lymph nodes, leading to fluid build-up and lymphedema. 

Do I have lymphedema?

Check if you have these symptoms:

  • Does your arm or leg (or other part of your body) look swollen and bigger in size?
  • Does the skin feel tighter in that area? You may even have a tingling sensation due to the tightness of your skin. 
  • Does the skin look thicker in that area?
  • Does that limb (or area) feel heavier than before?

If you have answered yes to these questions, then you need to consult your doctor to check for lymphedema. 

Check to see if you can spot any blood clots in that area. Blood clots need immediate medical attention.

Can Lymphedema be cured?

Even though there is no guaranteed cure for lymphedema, it can be managed so that it doesn’t get worse. The symptoms can also be reduced, so that the discomfort is minimised. 

Top 4 ways to prevent Lymphedema

Here are some things you will need to do at home to reduce your risk of lymphedema.

  1. Exercise

This is not just a great way to manage lymphedema but is also the number one way to prevent it. There are very specific exercises that will help you drain the fluid from that part of the body. 

Many breast cancer patients tend to suffer from lymphedema after surgery. In the video below, Dr Rohan Khandelwal shows you the best exercises to prevent lymphedema. 

Keeping your arm or leg in a raised position also helps to drain the fluid.

2. Skin care

Any cuts or bruises in the part of your body that is prone to lymphedema may cause infections. This is because bacteria can enter the body through these cuts and bruises. For this reason, skin care becomes very important to prevent lymphedema. 

Here are some measures you can take:

  • Avoid dry skin by losing moisturising lotions and mild soaps.
  • Always use sunscreen when stepping outdoors. 
  • Wear thick gloves with cotton lining to prevent cuts and bruises while working.
  • Avoid injections or needles in the affected area.
  • Avoid tight clothing or jewellery in the affected area.
  • Keep nails short to avoid infections.
  • Avoid mosquito bites bites by using repellents. 
  • Avoid bathing in very hot or very cold water. 
  • Avoid shaving in this area, or use an electric razor if you have to. 
  • Avoid getting blood pressure reading in the arm near your surgery site. 
  • Look out for any signs of cellulitis and inform your doctor about it at the earliest.

3. Diet changes

Lymphedema is worsened by weight gain. For this reason, it’s advisable to make some lifestyle changes, including diet changes, to reduce your weight. 

healthy diet can prevent lymphedema

4. Get regular medical check-up

Your medical team may be able to spot any changes or problems that you have not yet noticed. If you have undergone surgery for cancer you are required to complete your follow-up schedule.

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