Can I prevent lymphoedema?

It is important to understand that although you may be able to reduce your chances of developing lymphoedema, there are no guarantees that you can prevent it from developing entirely. The reasons why some people develop lymphoedema and others do not is not fully understood. However, it is recognised that excellent results can often be achieved through early detection, diagnosis and appropriate treatment. If you believe you are at risk of developing lymphoedema, you should discuss this with your healthcare professional. For more information regarding types and causes of lymphoedema, please click here.

If you have been advised that you may be at risk of developing lymphoedema, your healthcare professional may take baseline measurements of the ‘at risk’ arm or leg. That way if any swelling or signs of lymphoedema are noticed, the arm or leg can be remeasured and any difference in limb measurements can be calculated. This can help to confirm a diagnosis.

The following suggestions may be helpful in trying to reduce the risks of lymphoedema progressing. Many of them are common sense approaches to living a healthy life but they may also help to reduce the risk of lymphedema.

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Following a healthy eating plan and exercising regularly can help you keep your weight within accepted levels. This can significantly lower your risk of lymphoedema.
  • Exercise: Before beginning any exercise programme, speak to your healthcare professional to ensure that it is suitable. Exercise within your own limitations and gradually increase the time and intensity of your workouts to see how your body reacts. For more information regarding exercise and movement, please click here.
  • Monitor your at risk limb: Look out for any early signs and symptoms such as heaviness, aching or tightness, changes to the shape of your arm/leg or hand/feet, slight swelling that is often worse at the end of the day or clothing / jewellery that may feel tighter than usual.
  • Develop a good skin care routine:  Looking after your skin on a daily basis is very important as this may help to reduce the risk of infection (a known cause of lymphoedema). Appropriate skin care consists of cleaning your skin, drying thoroughly and moisturising. Keep your skin soft and supple to avoid drying and cracking (and the risk of infection) by applying creams at night that are recommended by your healthcare professional. Use an electric shaver or depilatory (hair removing) creams instead of wet shaving (razor blade) or waxing to remove unwanted body hair.
  • Reduce the risk of infection: Reducing the risk of infection in the ‘at risk’ limb is important as infection may trigger the onset of lymphoedema. Maintain good skin care and apply basic first aid as needed. Such as cleaning any cuts, scrapes and insect bites, applying an antiseptic and covering the area to try to prevent bacteria entering. Keep a small first aid kit with you when you travel! Seek medical assistance immediately if you think you may be developing an infection.
  • Protect your at-risk limb: Try to avoid injuries to the skin that can lead to infection, such as scratches or bites from pets or other animals, bites or stings from insects (use an insect repellent), unnecessary skin punctures (injections, blood samples, blood pressure readings, acupuncture, tattoos or piercings). Try to avoid scratching your skin or nail biting which can be a potential route for infection. Try to avoid burns from heat sources (including the sun – wear a high factor sunscreen SPF30+), extreme temperatures and excessive strain or over exertion of the at risk limb.
  • Do not restrict your circulation: Try not to wear tight fitting clothing, bras, waist bands, watches or rings as this may restrict the blood and lymph circulation.