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Common Questions

Being overweight can actually increase the risk of lymphedema. And in individuals with lymphedema, any extra weight increases the work the lymphatic system has to do. Successfully managing lymphedema means working to maintain a healthy diet and a healthy weight. Certain foods may increase swelling, and sodium can cause excess water retention. If you notice swelling after you eat, keep a food diary to see if you can determine which food may be causing the swelling.

It’s a good idea to avoid both. Drinking alcohol is not a nutritionally sound use of calories, but beyond that, it causes vasodilation of the blood vessels and increased flow of lymph. This is not handled well by an impaired lymphatic system, and so additional swelling can result. If you do drink alcohol, monitor the swelling in your affected limb. Smoking, of course, carries many health risks, and narrows the blood vessels, preventing fluids from properly flowing out of the affected limb.

This depends on where you have lymphedema, as it’s important to position yourself in such a way that the lymph can drain. So, if your arm is affected, keep it comfortably elevated (ensuring that it stays below shoulder height) by resting it on a pillow. If your leg is affected, you’ll either want to recline with your legs up, or sit with your leg up on a chair or ottoman, ensuring that you are supporting your knee with a cushion or pillow. And avoid sitting with your legs crossed. Finally, if you have lymphedema in your head/neck, you should sleep with your head elevated to help the fluid drain. You can do this either by sleeping with a foam wedge or a special pillow, or by elevating the head of the bed. In any case, you should avoid being stationary for long periods of time. It’s a good idea to get up and move around at least once an hour if you are able to do so.

It’s a good idea to always try to wear comfortable shoes, particularly if you will be standing for a long time. If you can, perform heel raises, as that will help activate your calf muscles. You can also shift your weight from side to side and from heel to toe. If you are able to, try to do some walking and moving around—even a little bit. Additionally, make sure you wear your compression garment as recommended by your healthcare provider.

Choose comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. Avoid anything that is tight or doesn’t allow you to move freely. This includes socks, stockings, and underwear.

Besides carrying the risk of burning or damaging your skin, hot water causes vasodilation of the blood vessels. Therefore, you will want to avoid showering or bathing in extremely hot water. It is recommended that you keep the water temperature below 102° F (38.9° C), and your time under 15 minutes. Hypoallergenic soaps can also help prevent irritation of the skin. After showering or bathing, be sure to dry your skin completely, patting the skin gently instead of rubbing, and taking extra care to dry the skin between the toes.

If you have lymphedema of the leg, you should not walk barefoot on the beach, as doing so increases the risk of cutting your foot, which can lead to a serious infection. If you go swimming, be sure to shower afterward and dry yourself completely, paying special attention to the skin between your toes. Once you are out of the water, you’ll want to put your compression garment back on.

Yes. It’s important that you try to keep a daily routine, while taking necessary precautions to prevent injury or infection. Movement and exercise are especially important.

The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or another health care provider if you have any questions about a medical condition or treatment, and do not disregard your doctor’s advice because of any information provided on this site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately contact your doctor or call 911.

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