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Lymphedema most often begins with swelling of the hands and feet.  If you notice persistent swelling in an extremity, it is very important that you seek immediate medical advice as early diagnosis and treatment improves both the prognosis and the condition.  When lymphedema remains untreated, the limb becomes more edematous and the skin hardens, losing its elasticity (fibrosis). Moreover, untreated lymphedema leads to infection and sometimes irreversible complications. The degree of swelling you are experiencing will determine some of your clothing needs.

In general, follow these simple rules:

  • Avoid elastic or constricting cuffs on all garments
  • Wear watches on unaffected arm whenever possible
  • Avoid sunburns
  • Carry purses and heavy packages and bags on unaffected arm
  • Wear protective gloves gardening, cooking, and using harsh cleaning chemicals and detergents
  • Avoid insect bites; wear insect repellant and protective clothing when necessary
  • Talk to your physician regarding the use of a compression garment when traveling by air

Lymphedema causes an infection when the lymphatic flow is obstructed. Lymph fluid is rich in albumin or protein.  The lymph fluid accumulates and becomes stagnant in the tissues of the limb closest to the obstruction.  This creates an environment favorable for the growth of bacteria and ultimately, infection.  Low prophylactic doses of antibiotics frequently are prescribed for people who experience recurrent infections. Note: Always carry your antibiotics or a prescription with you when you travel.