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Compression garments are an essential way of controlling lymphoedema.
This video gives and introduction to compression garments in the treatment of lymphoedema. This information was correct as of 1 December 2011.
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Sleeves can be used for swollen arms and stockings can be used for swollen legs. Compression garments are also available for lymphoedema affecting the breast/chest and genital area.
They work by:
It’s important to be fitted by someone experienced in selecting, measuring and fitting compression garments. Your lymphoedema specialist will usually do this or arrange it for you. Compression garments are available in different grades of pressure depending on the degree of lymphoedema you have.
In many hospitals, compression garments are available from the breast care nurse or surgical appliances department. They come in a range of shades to match different skin tones and hypo-allergenic types are available for people with sensitive skin. Some garments are available ‘off the shelf’ and others need to be made-to-measure. A list of suppliers is on pages 80–81. Your GP can prescribe garments but usually only on the recommendation of your lymphoedema specialist. Your specialist will discuss which is the most appropriate garment for you and they will choose the correct size. Your GP will then be asked to provide the garment.
During your fitting you should also be advised and shown how to put on and remove the garment. Here are some useful suggestions:
It’s important to wear your compression garment all day, but usually it can be taken off at night when you’re lying down and resting.
When you start wearing a compression garment for the first time, wear it for a few hours the first day. Then gradually build up the time you wear it for each day, until you can keep it on for most of the day. This way you will become gradually used to the feeling and pressure of the garment against your skin.
If you’re travelling a long distance, especially by air, make sure you wear it for the full length of the journey and for some hours afterwards.
You should be given at least two garments so that you can have one in the wash while you wear the other. The manufacturer will supply washing instructions. Worn every other day, they usually last between 4–6 months.
If your compression garment is too loose, it won’t control swelling and needs to be refitted. If it’s too tight, it will restrict blood flow. If you get pins and needles or pain, or your fingers or toes change colour, it’s too tight. Remove it straight away and contact your lymphoedema specialist for advice. It’s important that you’re properly measured and fitted to prevent these problems from happening.
There are some situations when compression garments shouldn’t be worn. You should avoid wearing one if:
Compression garments used incorrectly can be harmful, and won’t help the swelling go down. The material can form tight bands across the skin and even damage it. If you’re in doubt, ask your lymphoedema specialist for advice.
If the limb is large and irregular in shape, compression bandaging is used first to reduce the size of the limb before a compression garment is fitted.
If your arm or leg is very swollen or its shape has changed a lot, it may be difficult to fit a compression sleeve or stocking.
To reduce the swelling and improve the shape, special multi-layer lymphoedema bandages and different types of foam can be used as part of your treatment.
A lymphoedema specialist will usually put the compression bandages on for you every day. It may take two or three weeks of bandaging before it’s possible to fit a compression sleeve or stocking.
Bandaging is often combined with manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) massage| or simple lymphatic drainage (SLD) massage|, exercises| and skin care| to reduce the size of a limb that’s very swollen.
Content last reviewed: 1 March 2013
Next planned review: 2015
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