Tips & Strategies for Managing and Treating Lymphedema
Lymphedema is a condition that has no real cure. The goal, then, is to manage and minimize symptoms, and to discourage the progression of the disease. Most people with lymphedema will have received at least some instruction in how to properly deal with their condition. If you think you may be experiencing undiagnosed lymphedema, be sure to contact your doctor and share your concerns.
In many cases, your physician will recommend a period of intensive therapy, during which you will receive Complete Decongestive Therapy. This may involve daily manual lymphatic drainage; a form of massage to help direct fluid out of tissues and back into the lymph vessels. Patients typically learn other aspects of self care, and are eventually dismissed to continue care at home.
Here are some tips and suggestions for taking matters into your own hands, and minimizing the effects of your condition. Be sure to carefully follow the advice of your healthcare provider(s).
A good diet can make a big difference in the level of inflammation in your body. We know, too, that obesity is a specific risk factor for lymphedema. Accordingly, if you are overweight or obese, losing weight can be a key step you can take to alleviate your symptoms.
Curtailing salt intake may be especially important for people with lymphedema. Excess dietary salt tends to encourage fluid retention. It’s also linked to high blood pressure among some individuals.
Engaging in moderate exercises, as approved by your doctor, can help you maintain a healthful weight and boost cardiovascular health. Exercise can also boost confidence, while enhancing endurance, energy levels, and even body image.
Drinking plenty of water is a good way to facilitate kidney function. Kidneys must work hard to remove excess fluids, proteins and other substances. Plenty of water helps “flush" the kidneys.
Avoid saunas, steam rooms, hot baths or hot showers. Keeping your affected limb cool and comfortable helps prevent aggravating your condition. Similarly, wear comfortable clothing. While your compression wear is designed to assist your body in draining excess fluid, too-tight clothes, which bind in the wrong places, may actually impede drainage. Likewise, avoid wearing tight-fitting jewelry on affected limbs. Avoid temperature extremes in general, whether hot or cold.
Taking care of your skin is more important than ever. Keep skin moisturized, the better to resist cracking, flaking or dryness that could provide a route for infection to take hold. Use an anti-fungal cream or powder to prevent or control athlete’s foot infections. Consider using a skin cream or lotion formulated especially for lymphedema patients.
As often as conveniently possible, elevate your affected limb above your heart. This enables gravity to assist your body in draining lymph.