Many women who undergo breast cancer surgery develop a swelling of the arm called lymphedema. Lymphedema is brought on when lymph nodes under the arm are removed, slowing the flow of lymph fluid and causing the fluid to build up in the arm and hand.
Lymphedema can occur immediately following surgery or months or years later, depending on the type. The most common type of lymphedema is slow and painless and may occur 18 to 24 months after surgery, while other types occur within a few days to about four to six weeks following surgery.
The main symptom of lymphedema is swelling of the affected arm, and the degree of swelling may vary. Severe swelling, also called edema, can enlarge the affected arm several inches compared to the other arm. In addition to swelling of the arm, the most common symptoms of lymphedema include:
- Tightness in the affected arm
- Aching or pain in the affected arm
- Swelling in the hand (may be evidenced by rings that no longer fit)
- Weakness in the affected arm
Woman’s has a certified lymphedema therapist who is specially trained to treat lymphedema symptoms. To schedule an appointment at the Woman’s Center for Wellness, call 225-924-8450.
Treatment for lymphedema depends on the severity and extent of the condition and may include:
- Exercise to help restore flexibility and strength, and improve drainage
- Wearing a customized compression sleeve or elastic bandage to prevent an accumulation of fluid
- Applying an arm pump to increase the fluid flow and prevent the fluid from collecting in the arm
- Eating a well-balanced diet and controlling body weight
- Keeping the arm raised above the level of the heart
Prevention & Control
Preventing and Controlling Lymphedema
Because there is no cure at this time, prevention and controlling lymphedema play an important role with this condition. Woman’s offers these tips to help control any fluid accumulation in the arm:
- Avoid wearing tight clothing or jewelry on your affected arm
- If possible, have shots, blood tests and blood pressure measurements on the other arm
- Wear gloves to protect your hands when gardening and when using strong detergents
- Avoid burns or sunburns to your affected arm and hand