Lymphoedema - Prevention 

Preventing lymphoedema 

If you have received treatment for cancer, the following steps could help prevent lymphoedema. If you already have lymphoedema, this advice may stop it getting worse.

Skin care

The part of your body affected by lymphoedema is more vulnerable to infection because it does not receive a regular supply of infection-fighting cells (lymphocytes). Any cuts in your skin can allow bacteria to enter your body and may quickly develop into an infection.

You can avoid infections and help prevent lymphoedema by:

  • not having injections or blood pressure readings in the affected area
  • treating cuts and scratches immediately with an antiseptic cream so they do not become infected
  • using insect repellents to prevent insect bites
  • moisturising the skin daily to keep it supple (your GP may prescribe a suitable cream)
  • avoiding very hot baths and showers (the heat from saunas, steam rooms and sun beds may also increase the swelling)
  • using sun cream with a high sun protection factor (SPF) to prevent sunburn
  • wearing gloves for gardening and household tasks to avoid cuts
  • cutting your nails with nail clippers and using hand cream regularly
  • using anti-fungal powder to prevent athlete's foot (a condition that makes the skin red, flaky and itchy)
  • seeing a chiropodist for foot and nail care (tell them you have lymphoedema)
  • wearing shoes that fit correctly and provide support at the top of your feet
  • using an electric razor if you need to shave to reduce the risk of cutting yourself
  • not wearing tight-fitting clothes or jewellery

Diet and lifestyle

A healthy diet is also important in controlling lymphoedema. Being overweight puts increased strain on areas of the body that are already swollen. This can make it more difficult to fit compression garments over the affected limbs.

People who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more are classed as obese and may be at increased risk of developing lymphoedema.

Use the healthy weight calculator to work out your BMI. Read more information about obesity.

Some people find that alcohol and heat cause an increase in swelling, while some have reported that air travel makes their symptoms worse.

Page last reviewed: 20/07/2012

Next review due: 20/07/2014


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