These two words are not always associated together when wearing a lymphedema sleeve as they are normally flesh toned to blend in rather than stand out.
Some manufacturers have come to realize that some women want to make a fashion statement – or just a statement. Now you can see lymphedema sleeves in solid colors and even fancier ones with patterns to suit your outfit, mood or occasion.
One manufacturer has designed sleeves that are lighter weight but still have the same compression, are made of wicking fabric for summer or hot weather wear, and come in many fabulous patterns.
If you already have lymphedema, you will know what I am speaking about. You might as well make the best of a now lifelong management plan and have some fun. Enjoy exploring new options.
Lymphedema is a side effect of cancer surgery. It most often affect women who have breast cancer, but can also impact people who have had neck and/or throat surgeries as well as prostate or abdominal surgeries. Whenever lymph nodes are taken out, there is the potential for developing lymphedema.
Lymphedema happens when the lymph flow is compromised due to lymph nodes being removed. The bodies lymph system gets overloaded in this area (much like a commuter traffic jam when one or more lanes are closed). This creates swelling in the affected limb and/or torso.
Outer Compression Sleeve
One of the means of managing lymphedema is through bandaging done initially by a qualified lymphedema specialist. During the day, a compression sleeve is worn which is relatively easy to manage. For the night, many bandage their limb. To make this easier, there is a system that uses a inner sleeve and an outer lycra sleeve to apply the compression.
My suggestion is be aware of the prevention tips so you don’t get lymphedema in the first place. It is a chronic condition with no cure. However, sometimes with the best of care, it will happen. When it does, there are many options for managing lymphedema.
Having just returned from Hawaii, I want to share the issues surrounding the care needed to reduce the risk of lymphedema when travelling by air.
If you have had breast cancer, whether recent or a long time ago, you may not be aware that it is wise to wear a prevention compression sleeve when travelling by air. Here is an excerpt from a position paper ‘Air Travel and Lymphedema’ distributed by The National Lymphedema Network.
‘The cabin pressure that is experienced during air flight is less than the atmospheric pressure on the ground. During flight, cabin pressure decreases from sea level to the low air pressure found at between 6,000 and 8,000 feet above sea level. The decreased pressure within the plane’s cabin may give rise to increased swelling in a lymphedematous limb as tissue pressures are physiologically altered. (1; 2) Changes in fluid production in the tissues occur when the external pressures exerted on the limb are changed. (3) Diminished pressure in the airplane cabin will result in a decrease in the fluid moved in to the lymphatic system. The fluid will remain in the extracellular spaces and an exacerbation of lymphedema may result. (4) The use of the compression garments will provide external pressure on the extremity to adequately support favorable resorption and decrease the potential for fluid accumulation in the tissue. (5) The use of compression may prevent worsening of pre-existing lymphedema and is recommended for those with lymphedema during air travel. (6) Compression bandages will potentially increase the interstitial tissue pressure and enhance the muscle pump in the lymphedematous extremity. The beneficial outcomes are two-fold. First, resorption of fluid at the capillary level is enhanced due to the compression. Second, the garment or bandages stimulate the lymphatic system, via the muscle pump, and uptake of extracellular fluid increases, helping to prevent an exacerbation of lymphedema.’
Wearing the compression sleeve not only supports your arm while in the air, it serves as a physical reminder to take care when lifting and handling luggage. The compression sleeve also alerts others to your situation and many offer help with the heavy lifting.
It pays to be careful and take precautions to reduce the risk of getting lymphedema. Once you have lymphedema, it is a chronic issue which you will need to manage for life.
Those who have lymphedema are familiar with the basic lymphedema sleeve – natural color or black. Most wear the lymphedema or compression sleeve for function – to keep the lymph fluid moving through their arm to reduce the swelling. This compression sleeve needs to be worn all the time for most and especially when exercising.
There are now compression sleeves with some ‘chic’ factor. They are fun, easy to wear (same compression but lighter weight with less bunching at the elbow), have wicking capacity and can add substantially to an outfit. No longer just a practical necessity, you can have a wardrobe of sleeves to suit your fancy and still get all the benefits that wearing a compression sleeve offers.
There are some indicators that you might have the start of lymphedema. If caught early, you can reduce the severity and sometimes reverse lymphedema as I’ve seen a few times with my students.
Signs and Symptoms:
1. Any feeling of fullness in the limb and sometimes in the chest wall.
2. Skin feeling snug or tight
3. Swelling in the fingers or hand – rings are suddenly too tight or wrist bands of sweaters, a watch or bracelet feel uncomfortable
4. Loss of flexibility in the wrist or hand
It is very important to get immediate attention if you notice any of the above symptoms or have persistent swelling. Find a qualified lymphedema specialist (i.e. Vodder certified) in your area and have your condition assessed. Quick action and attention will greatly reduce the severity of the condition.
Once diagnosed, you will be given a treatment plan which might include an initial bandaging stage and later a fitted lymphedema sleeve. If you are in a more rural area without these resources, there are ready-to-wear lymphedema or compression sleeves available.
For those who have had abdominal cancer surgeries which affect the lymph nodes in the groin, lymphedema can affect your lower limbs – same symptoms as above. This often happens to men who have had prostate cancer.
Lymphedema is still not widely understood or acknowledged as a risk of cancer, especially breast cancer. There are guidelines for prevention if known beforehand. The sad thing is that once a person gets lymphedema, there is no cure. So, prevention is key.
So, what is Lymphedema. Here is an excellent video explaining exactly what lymphedema is.
A verbal definition of lymphedema, as stated by the National Lymphedema Network, is:
“Lymphedema is an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the interstitial tissue that causes swelling, most often in the arm(s) and/or leg(s), and occasionally in other parts of the body. Lymphedema can develop when lymphatic vessels are missing or impaired (primary), or when lymph vessels are damaged or lymph nodes removed (secondary).
When the impairment becomes so great that the lymphatic fluid exceeds the lymphatic transport capacity, an abnormal amount of protein-rich fluid collects in the tissues of the affected area. Left untreated, this stagnant, protein-rich fluid not only causes tissue channels to increase in size and number, but also reduces oxygen availability in the transport system, interferes with wound healing, and provides a culture medium for bacteria that can result in lymphangitis (infection).”
Lymphedema can occur in the upper and lower extremities (arms and legs – and even torso). You are at risk if you have had surgery for cancer that involves removal of lymph nodes. For more detailed information, read the following books about Lymphedema.
Over the next few posts, I will be covering some the issues related to lymphedema and cancer.