General management principles

Effective management can reduce symptom severity and improve quality of life.

Patients will need to understand that there is no cure, but appropriate management and daily care can reduce swelling, improve movement and prevent infections.

Infection control is essential to reduce the risk of developing or exacerbating lymphoedema. Patients should be educated about the importance of skin care, foot care and weight management.

Skin care Foot care Weight management
Healthy skin acts as a barrier to infection Feet should be cleaned and dried daily Excess body weight may slow lymphatic flow
Skin should be moisturised, and monitored for ulcers and infections like tinea Infections and injuries should be treated promptly  
Constrictions to the affected body part (eg jewellery, tight clothes, shoes) should be avoided    

Patients should also be aware of the signs and symptoms of cellulitis, and encouraged to seek medical attention urgently.

Acknowledging patient concerns and challenges of living with lymphoedema is important. This should include practical and emotional aspects.

Implementing psychosocial care strategies helps patients and their families or carers to take a positive role in the management of their lymphoedema and to achieve improvements in their quality of life.

Encourage patients to talk about their general psychological and emotional well-being, and explore any specific concerns or sources of distress. Be alert for clinical issues such as anxiety, depression and problems with body image.

Patients require support to enable daily and long-term management of the condition.

Consumer support groups exist in each state and territory, and a number of useful resources for consumers can be found by following the links in the column to the right. The Australasian Lymphology Association provides information and support for lymphoedema practitioners and health professionals.

  • Lymphoedema — what you need to know
  • A leaflet for Indigenous consumers
  • Cancer — how are you travelling?

Referral

Consider referring the patient to a qualified lymphoedema practitioner or clinic if:

  • the patient’s symptoms are unresponsive to initial management
  • the patient experiences functional, joint or mobility problems
  • there is visible swelling or clinical pitting of the affected limb
  • there is an obvious discrepancy in limb sizes.

If symptoms are severe, early referral is appropriate.