Life after Lymphedema Diagnosis: What to Expect

By: Katherine Bunker

March 01, 2024


Managing lymphedema effectively is essential for enhancing the quality of life for individuals affected by this condition. Katherine Bunker, a Physical Therapist and Certified Lymphedema Therapist (PT, DPT, CLT) at Renown, has expertise in this area and her insights offer valuable strategies for managing lymphedema. 

Lymphedema is a chronic condition characterized by swelling in one or more limbs due to a blockage in the lymphatic system. This condition can result from cancer treatments, surgery, infection, or can sometimes be congenital. While it can be challenging to live with lymphedema, understanding the condition and adopting specific lifestyle changes and strategies can significantly improve the quality of life.  

Understanding Lymphedema

Educating yourself about lymphedema is crucial. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and potential complications can provide you with the tools to manage the condition proactively. Lymphedema can lead to discomfort, decreased mobility, and in severe cases, infections such as cellulitis. Therefore, recognizing the early signs and knowing when to seek medical advice is essential.  

Medical Management 

Consulting with healthcare professionals who specialize in lymphedema is critical. A physiotherapist or occupational therapist trained in lymphedema management can tailor a treatment plan for you that can include the following:

  • Compression Therapy - Wearing prescribed compression garments can help move the lymph fluid and reduce swelling. It’s essential to get fitted by a professional and understand how to use these garments correctly.  
  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) a gentle massage technique that encourages the movement of lymph fluid out of the affected limb. It’s typically performed by a trained therapist but ask about self-massage techniques you can do at home.  

Lymphedema Class

Katherine Bunker lymphedema specialist at renown

Lymphedema Class

For patients who have been diagnosed or are currently being treated for breast cancer. This class focuses on educating patients about the basic anatomy of the lymphatic system. 

Lifestyle and Home Management  

Engage in regular, gentle exercises, such as swimming, walking, or yoga, which can stimulate lymph flow. However, it's essential to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen.  

  • Diet and Hydration A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can help maintain a healthy weight, reducing pressure on the lymphatic system. Also, staying well-hydrated helps maintain normal fluid movement in the body. 
  • Skin Care Keep your skin clean and moisturized to prevent cracks and infections. Minor cuts or scratches should be treated immediately to avoid complications.

Emotional and Social Support

Joining a lymphedema support group can provide valuable information, encouragement, and a sense of community. Sharing experiences with others who understand what you’re going through can be incredibly comforting. 

  • Mental Health Living with a chronic condition like lymphedema can be emotionally challenging. If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to seek support from a mental health professional. Counseling can provide strategies for coping with the emotional aspects of the condition.  
  • Awareness and Advocacy Educate those around you about lymphedema. The more people know about the condition, the more support and understanding you’re likely to receive. Advocate for yourself and be proactive in seeking the best care and resources available. This may include asking for referrals to specialists or researching new treatments and advances in lymphedema management.  

Living with lymphedema requires a comprehensive approach that includes medical treatment, lifestyle changes, and emotional support. While it can be challenging to manage at times, adopting a proactive attitude towards treatment and self-care can lead to a fulfilling and active life. Remember, you are not alone; many resources and support networks are available to help you navigate this journey. 

Additional Information:

Learn more about Lymphedema visit the Lymphedema Treatment Act.