Lymphedma is a condition that is usually caused by cancer, radiation treatment, lymph node surgery and parasites. This condition causes swelling from a build up of lymph fluid in the body. Put simply, your lymph nodes act like a drain in your sink, if this drain is clogged, the fluid cannot drain. It most commonly occurs in the arms and legs, although it can happen in any part of the body.
Symptoms of Lymphedema
Lymphedema signs and symptoms include:
- Swelling of part or all of the arm or leg, including fingers or toes
- A feeling of heaviness or tightness
- Restricted range of motion
- Recurring infections
- Hardening and thickening of the skin (fibrosis)
Signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe. Lymphedema caused by cancer treatment may not occur until months or years after treatment.
Although lymphedema cannot be cured, there are a number of ways to control the swelling and keep it from getting any worse. This includes getting fit and maintaining a healthy weight. Treatment examples include:
- A healthy diet
- Manual lymph drainage
- Specialised massage techniques
- Compression bandages
- Compression garments
What are compression garments?
Compression garments are tight, compressive clothing usually made of elastin and nylon. They fit tightly around the skin and help stop lymphedema getting any worse. They also help to reduce mild swelling. Compression garments are available in different levels or grades of pressure. The garment you have will depend on how much swelling there is, and the part of the body affected. Lymphedema clothing is designed to prevent fluid build up, increase blood circulation in a comfortable, non-invasive way.
Putting on and removing compression garments
When you are fitted for your compression garment, you will be shown how to put it on and remove it.
For arm sleeves, start by folding the top down to the elbow or until the garment is in half. You could also hold onto something like a doorknob or handle to help. You can pull against it to pull the sleeve up your arm.
For leg garments, it may help to turn the stocking inside out as far as the ankle or heel part.
Here are some more tips for putting on and removing compression garments:
- Put your garment on first thing in the morning, when the limb is at its smallest. It is best to wait a short while after a shower or bath. If your skin is damp, it can be difficult to put on.
- Pull the garment over your hand or foot and ease it up, one bit at a time. Make sure you do not pull it up by the top of the garment.
- Do not turn or roll the top over. This will restrict the blood flow and cause more swelling.
- Using a little unperfumed talc on your arm or leg can help ease the garment on. There are also different things available to help put garments on and to take them off. Your lymphoedema specialist will be able to give you information about suppliers.
- Make sure the material is spread evenly and there are no creases when your garment is on. Wearing a rubber glove can help you put the garment on and smooth out any creases. If you have an arm sleeve, you should put the glove on the opposite hand.
- Moisturise your skin at night after you take off your garment. Do not do this in the morning, because cream makes the sleeve or stocking difficult to put on.