Lymphedema Resources & FAQs
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Q: Is arm lymphedema always reversible if treated early?
A: I think at any stage of lymphedema there's an element of reversibility. We can soften the tissue and can decongest the limb, especially at the early stages.

Q:  If you have LE and don't wear a compression sleeve 24/7, will your swelling irreversibly worsen over time?
A:   Lymphedema will progress over time if it's not managed appropriately. So it comes down to an individual clinical decision about what is appropriate treatment. Compression garments have been shown to be very effective to maintain limb volume.

Q:  What exercises can help prevent lymphedema? Can I lift weights at all on the affected arm, even just 5 lbs?
A:  Women with LE can't afford to injure the arm due to overactivity. So if your diagnosis caused you to walk away from exercise for some period of time, you must rebuild the limb before resuming your normal workout schedule. Muscle is a “use it or lose it” tissue. Be aware of the breaks between exercise sessions and do not overextend yourself too soon. Be body aware and use common sense.
Read this research for more information regarding weight lifting and LE

Q:  Is it advisable for all patients to wear a sleeve when flying? What if only one or two lymph nodes were removed? Is there a difference between short and long flights?
A:  There is a shift in fluid when people are exposed to a decreased air pressure for a long period of time, although everyone's body will respond to that pressure differently. If a patient is to have a compression sleeve for an airplane flight, the garment should be well-fit by a trained therapist, and the patient should be familiar with how to properly wear the garment.
Read this research for more information regarding air travel and LE

Q:  How can I tell the difference between the swelling in my arm and breast from radiation (I am 2 months out of treatment) and the signs of lymphedema?
A:  The hallmark sign of lymphedema is an asymmetrical swelling in the tissue that persists over time. Skin and tissue changes related to radiation can persist for a long period of time. In fact, inflammation is high in that tissue for up to a minimum of 4 months, and longer term changes can happen for up to 5 years. So to tell the difference in the early stages is difficult. But the question I would ask is does the swelling change over time? Do you see the swelling in your arm or breast change from week to week or day to day? Month to month even? Is it gradually improving over time? If it is, I'd say it's related more so to the radiation.
Q:  Is it safe to get a manicure with LE?
A:  As long as it's done in a safe manner, and by that I mean protecting the skin integrity. It is advised not to have cuticles cut - just simply push them back. It's a safe mechanism by which you can protect the skin. Perhaps take your own sterile supplies to have your manicures done.

Q:  Is it safe to do yoga with LE?
A:  Absolutely!

Q:  Is it okay to wear a shoulder strap handbag on the affected arm? Also, would activities such as painting walls cause damage or be detrimental?
A:  This question comes back to the issue of overuse and understanding what overuse is for you individually. If your shoulder bag requires more of your limb than it can handle and your arm feels tired and stressed after wearing it, it's too much. Get a smaller bag. If your maximal capacity of the affected limb is a 10 and any activity - not just carrying a shoulder bag - requires 9.5 out of 10, that's probably too much. Try an over-the-shoulder bag and wear strap it across your opposite shoulder.  If you could find a cloth purse is optimal over a leather carrying bag.  And try to lighten your items in the purse as much as possible.

Q:  Will computer work hurt my LE?
A:  It's sort of like using a computer and the development of carpal tunnel - some people will develop carpal tunnel, and others will not. Only time and trial and error will tell you if you're going to develop lymphedema in that situation. Make sure your work station is ergonometrically (physically safely) positioned - the seating and desktop area.

Q:  What about shaving?  I hate using an electric razor.
A:  This just goes back to skin care. The less opportunity we give for bacteria to enter our skin with nicks and cuts from shaving, the less exposed we are and potentially the healthier the limb will be. Again, that's not to say nicks and cuts don't happen, and bugs will certainly bite. So if these small punctures to the skin do happen, we take care of them with antibiotic ointment and prevent them from becoming infected.
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