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How To Prevent And Control Lymphedema

Try To Avoid Constriction

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© American Cancer Society 2010

Constriction or squeezing of the arm may increase the pressure in nearby blood vessels. This may lead to increased fluid and swelling (much like water building up behind a dam). Some women have linked this with the start of lymphedema. Lymphedema has also been linked with air travel, possibly because of the low cabin pressure. Tips include:

  • Wear loose jewelry, clothing, and gloves. Avoid anything that forms a snug band around your arm or wrist.
  • Do not use shoulder straps when carrying briefcases and purses.
  • Wear a loose-fitting bra with padded straps that do not dig into your shoulder. After mastectomy, use a lightweight prosthesis (breast form). A heavy prosthesis may put too much pressure on the area.
  • Do not have your blood pressure taken on the affected arm. If both arms are affected, blood pressure can be taken on your thigh.
  • On long or frequent flights, wear a compression sleeve. A well-fitted compression sleeve may help prevent swelling by helping to squeeze the lymph fluid through the remaining vessels before it builds up. But careful fitting is required, since any garment that is too tight near the top can actually reduce the lymph flow. Ask your doctor or physical therapist if you should be fitted for a sleeve to wear during air travel. You may also want to discuss ways to safely raise your arm above the level of your heart and exercise it during long flights.

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