How To Prevent Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a fairly common ailment that is associated with impairment of the lymphatic system. In particular, lymphatic flow and drainage. There are two types of lymphedema, namely primary lymphedema and secondary lymphedema. The former is as a result of congenital defects that may be present from birth, which makes it harder to control, or rather prevent. On the other hand, we have secondary lymphedema which can be attributed to by various factors. Often, it is as a result of cancer whereby the lymph nodes are either removed or damaged or due to radiation therapy. Since the lymphatic system has been interfered with, it results in fluid buildup resulting in swelling, and the fluid does not drain out properly.

How To Prevent Lymphedema?

In cases of primary lymphedema, there is little one can do to prevent the condition from occurring. This is because it is involved with one’s genetic composition. However, in cases where the condition is non-symptomatic, any triggering effects can be avoided to reduce the risk of developing the condition. Otherwise, since we know what causes secondary lymphedema, one can be cautious enough to prevent the development of lymphedema. But, in cases of cancer and radiation, that might be difficult, considering that cancer treatment needs to be prioritized before lymphedema treatment.

Here are a few preventive measures you should incorporate in your daily life to avoid lymphedema:

  • Avoid cutting and grazing your skin as well as skin burns so as to minimize the risk of subsequent infections.
  • In case of an injury to the skin, clean the wound with clean water and soap. Apply an antibiotic cream then cover up with a dry bandage. Also, check for any signs of infection such as redness, warmth or swelling.
  • After cancer surgery or radiotherapy sessions, don’t engage in strenuous activities which may put a strain on the corresponding region of the lymphatic system.
  • Stay clear of sun beds, saunas, and steam rooms. Additionally, avoid taking very hot showers or baths.
  • Wear loosely-fitting clothes and jewelry.
  • Keep your skin moisturized and stay hydrated to prevent overly dry skin that can break easily and lead to infections.
  • While resting, keep the affected limbs elevated above heart level to allow the lymphatic fluid to flow out from where it has accumulated.
  • Constantly keep an eye on the affected skin for any changes.
  • Put shoes whenever you are going out. Avoid going out barefoot. Adding to that, also wear gloves when you are gardening.
  • Watch what you eat as well as your weight by ensuring you maintain a healthy BMI.
  • Monitor your blood pressure levels by frequently taking your blood pressure on the non-affected side.

Causes of Lymphedema

Generally, lymphedema occurs due to the failure of the lymphatic system to function properly. Primary lymphedema is caused by defects in one’s genes which then develops over time as the defective mutated genes altercate the lymphatic system. For example milroy’s disease, meige’s disease, or late-stage lymphedema, secondary lymphedema can be caused by:

  • Cancer surgery – for example, breast cancer surgery can result in lymphedema in the arms and chest region. During surgery, lymph nodes may be removed to prevent metastasizing of cancer into neighboring organs and tissue.
  • Other surgeries involving removal or dissection of lymph nodes.
  • Radiation therapy – radiation is used in killing cancerous cells in the body, which may damage tissue and lymphatic system that are close to the malignant growths.
  • Injury and trauma to the lymph glands.
  • Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and dermatitis, which result in swelling of affected areas.
  • Infections which may trigger swelling of lymph nodes.
  • Obesity and post-surgery weight gain.

Symptoms of Lymphedema

If you have lymphedema, you will experience the following symptoms;

  • Inflammation of the entire or part of the affected limb such as the leg, arms, genitalia including toes and fingers.
  • Fatigue due to the additional size and weight of the affected areas.
  • The skin around the affected areas takes on a lumpy appearance and in cases of extreme lymphedema, it may cause disfiguring.
  • Tenderness and soreness
  • Loss of mobility and occurrence in the affected extremities.
  • The overlying skin becomes scaly and hard, making it vulnerable to infections and damage.
  • Warmth, redness, itching and aching around the affected skin areas.
  • Fever and chills.


If you are at risk of developing lymphedema ensure you take better care of yourself to minimize the risks of the condition. Even after developing this disorder, ensure you keep observing the mentioned preventive measures to improve the ailment and the quality of your life. In addition to that, make sure you massage the affected areas and stay active to prevent the lymphedema from worsening.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 30, 2018

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