Treating and managing lymphoedema

My name is Dawn Heal and I’m a lymphoedema nurse specialist. The main treatment for your swelling will
be a compression garment prescribed by your lymphoedema nurse specialist. The purpose of the compression garment is
to help limit the space that the fluid is draining into, and therefore control your
lymphoedema. Compression garments are really important
in helping control your lymphoedema. You may be prescribed an arm sleeve or a stocking
for your leg. Compression garments are also available for
other body parts. You may have lymphoedema in your breasts or
it may be in your genitals and your nurse specialist can advise on the appropriate garments
to deal with this type of swelling. If you are recommended to wear an arm sleeve
or a stocking for your leg, you will also be advised on how to apply the stocking or
arm sleeve correctly. There is a very specialised, gentle form of
massage called manual lymphatic drainage. This will be performed by a trained manual
lymphatic drainage therapist. And the massage is very gentle and helps drain
away the excess fluid that you have in your limb. SLD or simple lymphatic drainage may well
be taught to you by your nurse specialist or your manual lymphatic drainage specialist. It’s a simpler form that you can do for
yourself every day at home. My name’s Annabel and I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my left breast. The treatment I received for the lymphoedema
started with the sleeve and a glove, sort of like a fingerless glove, to start the fluid
to drain from my arm and then I was sent for massage with a lymphoedema therapist. One of the reasons why I was so bothered about
having lymphoedema was because I didn’t want to wear a compression garment, because
I thought it would be hot and I thought it would be horrible. It’s something that I just do every day
now and, do you know what, it’s not that bad. The specialist will use multi-layer lymphoedema bandaging, which may include a use of foams and different bandages to create a multi-layer bandage. And this will gradually reduce your swelling much quicker than just the wearing of a sleeve or a stocking. Positioning your limb, really helps drain
away the fluid. Simply by putting your foot up on a footstool or on the couch perhaps will help drain away the fluid. If your lymphoedema is in your arm or your hand, using cushions when you’re sat in a chair to slightly elevate your arm will
really help. Exercise and movement is really important in helping control your lymphoedema. The lymphatic fluid actually moves out of
your limb by the contraction of your muscles and by you stretching and exercising – gently, of course, as you can manage. Whether you have lymphoedema now or are at
risk of developing it, it is important to learn how to manage it. There are several things we can do ourselves
to manage lymphoedema. Look after your skin, keep it well moisturised, and try to prevent insect bites and cuts and scratches and grazes. Keep an antiseptic close at hand so that you can apply this if anything does occur. And also, be careful in the sun, use a good sunscreen – at least a factor 30 or above. Check your skin daily. This can be done when you’re moisturising, when you remove your garment at night. Look for signs of redness or increased tenderness or pain and swelling. You may even have a temperature yourself. And these are signs of an infection in the
limb and you do need to seek urgent medical attention. Keep active and develop a daily exercise regime. Your lymphoedema nurse specialist will give you some simple exercises that you can do at home. Take care when travelling. Do wear your flight socks, or if you’ve
been prescribed compression stockings then these are better than the flight socks. Or your arm sleeve should be worn, especially on an aeroplane. You may find the position you’re sleeping
in is affecting your swelling. This can occur if you are sleeping on your
affected side in the case of arm lymphoedema for instance. In order to manage the lymphoedema, I was given a series of exercises, which helped
to move the fluid from my limb back into my body. It wasn’t as awful as I’d expected it
to be when I first found out I had lymphoedema. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was fine. There are certain precautions I take because if I get stung; if I get bitten; if I get cut or burnt; or anything, then there is a
danger that it can very quickly go septic. Because the doctor knows that I do have
quite an active life, I do have some emergency antibiotics that I can start taking. I have to be careful how much weight I carry
on my left arm and I have to be careful if I’m on the tube that I’m not hanging on
with my left arm. But I do yoga now, and I’m still
just about doing my long distance walking. So yeah, everything’s pretty much normal. The hints and tips that I’ve given you are useful even if you don’t have a lymphoedema. But if you’ve had cancer treatment and have
been advised by your doctor or nurse specialist that you are at risk, by following these hints and tips, it may prevent you getting lymphoedema. My advice to anybody who’s faced with the prospect of lymphoedema is don’t worry about it. It hasn’t been as bad as I thought it was
going to be. And because I did everything I was told by
the lymphoedema nurse and the specialists, I haven’t ended up with that much of a problem. Macmillan have been really, really helpful
all the way through, the particularly the leaflets or little booklets that Macmillan do; I had the lymphoedema one. I also looked it up on the website as well. They’ve been there behind and supporting all the way through.

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