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Early intervention

Risk reduction strategies focus on minimising limb swelling and blockage to lymph transport. However, the evidence relating to risk reduction strategies is scarce and is derived from studies of breast cancer patients.

For patients, risk reduction strategies can include:

  • avoiding hot baths, spas and saunas because they may exacerbate swelling
  • taking preventive measures for air travel or long-haul road or train trips (eg longer than four hours) including elevating the affected limb, exercising whenever possible and using a compression garment if appropriate.
  • It is currently unknown whether procedures such as injections, IV cannulations, monitoring blood pressure and excising skin lesions increase the risk of lymphoedema. As a precaution, use the untreated limb for these procedures whenever possible.

Patients should be educated about the early warning signs of lymphoedema and encouraged to inform a health professional about their concerns. Early warning signs can be intermittent and can develop months or years before the onset of persistent swelling.

Warning signs include:

  • transient swelling following exercise and physical activity
  • feelings of heaviness in the affected limb or body part
  • aching, pain or tension in the affected limb or body part
  • feelings of tightness or fullness (a ‘bursting’ feeling) in the affected limb or body part
  • clothing, shoes or jewellery feeling tighter.

Intervention at an early stage can signficantly reduce the risk of developing lymphoedema or reduce the severity of lymphoedema if it develops.