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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Good News about lymphedema

Lymphedema is annoying. One's odds of having problems with lymphedema increase with lymphectomy and even more with radiation of the lymph nodes, both of which apply to me.

However, there is no way to predict if or when symptoms of lymphedema will show up; furthermore, once one is symptomatic, damage is done and one is more likely to have future problems. Treatment is annoying and time consuming and not all that highly effective. In moderate to severe cases, massage and wrapping need to be done twice daily. Therefore, it is best to avoid lymphedema if at all possible.

In the past, women were told to baby their arms, to restrict activity, to avoid exercise. Common sense says that this is not logical, since the lymph system only moves fluid through muscle contractions. New research shows that exercise, while not improving symptoms also does not make them worse.

One way to minimize the chances of lymphedema is to avoid injury or infection to the limb. Another way is to wear a compression sleeve like I normally do, especially when exercising, flying, or driving long distances. An ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure, I guess.

So, I wear my sleeves. If anything, they remind me to pay attention to my arm, to not cut off the circulation by carrying heavy things on that side for long periods, to notice any swelling, etc. I don't mind wearing them. They aren't hot. They aren't any more annoying than other items of clothing that most women wear on a daily basis that I don't have to or won't wear, so I guess it's a fairly even trade (you guys can have your bras, hose/tights, heels, and artificial fibers; I'll take my sleeves any day).

I go on a semi-regular basis to have my arms measured and to check in with an occupational therapist who specializes in lymphedema. I saw her today, and my arm is smaller than it was, appears to only be swollen in one specific area, and otherwise, for a hot humid day, looked great to her. In fact, officially, I do not have a diagnosis of "lymphedema."

So, maybe as long as I pay attention to it and am careful, perhaps this is one bullet that I'll escape.

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