Taking care of yourself when you have lymphoedema
Because lymphoedema is a condition that never goes away, it’s important to stay involved in your lymphoedema care. Keeping up with all the precautions and treatments advised by your specialist can be demanding and you may need extra support.
Making contact with others through a support group or an online forum can be a good way of keeping motivated. This section explains some other things you can do to stay as healthy and involved in your healthcare as possible.
It’s important to attend regular check-ups with your lymphoedema specialist or doctor, so that you can see your progress. During these check-ups, the skin and tissues in your swollen area will be looked at and your arm or leg will be measured to monitor the effect of treatment. Some people find it helpful to keep their own progress chart.
Try to stick with the advice that you’ve been given about managing and treating the lymphoedema.
Although at first your progress may be slow, there should be a noticeable improvement in the limb after a few weeks. If you have any concerns, talk them over with your lymphoedema specialist or doctor. You should be able to contact them between appointments if you have any problems.
Keeping to a healthy weight
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If you have lymphoedema – or are at risk of developing it – keeping to a healthy weight is important. Being overweight puts more stress on the lymphatic system and makes lymphoedema harder to manage and treat. Compression garments will also be more difficult to put on and may not fit as well. It’s best to avoid gaining weight.
Losing weight can be difficult. Even trying to keep to a healthy weight is sometimes hard. In some circumstances, such as after breast cancer treatment, it’s not unusual for women to find that they’ve gained weight.
Try to keep your weight within the normal range for your height – your GP can tell you what your ideal weight is. Ask them or a dietitian for advice and support.
Tips for keeping to a healthy weight:
Reduce your calorie intake by cutting down on fat and sugar in your diet. Only eat as much food as you need.
Eat a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables to make sure you get all the nutrients you need to keep your body healthy.
Avoid crash diets. Losing weight slowly is healthier and you’re more likely to keep the weight off for good.
Be patient with yourself.
Increase your physical activity. This will help you to burn calories. Always get advice from your lymphoedema specialist or doctor before you start.
There isn’t a special diet to prevent or control lymphoedema. However, eating healthily helps to improve our general health and well-being, which is important when coping with lymphoedema. It also helps you to keep to a healthy weight.
Try to eat:
five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
more chicken and fish, especially oily fish
more high-fibre foods (wholegrain cereals, brown bread)
less red and processed meat
less saturated fat (pastries, samosas, cheese)
It’s also important to keep well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Some people with lymphoedema find that certain foods, such as spicy and salty foods, or alcohol (especially wine) can cause an increase in swelling. Keep a note of any foods you think make your lymphoedema worse as this will remind you to avoid them.
Too much alcohol is high in calories and can cause other health problems. It’s important to stick to sensible drinking guidelines. Current guidelines recommend that men drink no more than 3-4 units of alcohol per day, and women no more than 2-3 units per day.
You may find our sections on healthy eating, weight management and physical activity helpful to read.
Smoking affects the circulation and may affect the condition of the skin, which is already damaged by lymphoedema.
If you’re a smoker, giving up is the healthiest decision you can make. Stopping smoking also reduces your risk of heart and lung disease, bone thinning (osteoporosis) and smoking-related cancers. You’ll also feel better, look better and save money.