Published on June 14, 2016

Lymphedema: How to cope with swelling

Breast cancer treatment can be a lifesaver for women.

But like all treatments, it sometimes causes side effects.

lymphedema handOne of them is a condition known as lymphedema—a buildup of fluid in the arm or other areas of the body, such as the chest, breast or hand.

It can happen after treatment with surgery or radiation therapy.

Lymphedema can’t be cured, but it can be controlled.

“There are often ways to reduce the swelling and help keep it from getting worse,” says Catherine J. Friel, RN, Mercy Home Health Clinical Nurse Specialist.

Here are some tips from Friel that can help if you have lymphedema:

Keep using your arm. Everyday activities, such as brushing your hair or bathing, can help drain the fluid from your arm.

Rest sometimes. If your arm aches, lie down and raise it on a pillow above the level of your heart.

Wear a compression garment. These are carefully fitted sleeves worn over the arm to help push fluid out.

Protect your arm. Do your best not to get an infection or a burn. And avoid things that put pressure on your chest or arm. They could make the swelling worse.

For instance:

  • Ask to have blood pressure checked, blood drawn or shots given in the unaffected arm.
  • Clean and protect any cuts or scratches that could let in germs.
  • Be extra careful if you shave your underarms.
  • Use an oven mitt that covers your lower arm.
  • Put on protective gloves when doing chores such as cleaning or gardening.
  • Wear sunscreen and insect repellent when you spend time outdoors.