Beat the heat: manage lymphoedema easily (Part 1)

Ella Fitzgerald’s song “Summertime” came immediately to mind when I put pen to paper to write this article for our Summer edition. So many of my patients, repetitively ask me, “But why did my specialist not tell or warn me about lymphoedema?”

‘Summertime and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high.Oh, your daddy’s rich and your ma is good-looking’.So hush little baby, don’t you cry.’ There is no cure for lymphoedema, but if managed correctly ‘the livin’ is so easy!’

How can you avoid lymphoedema, especially with the extremely hot months on our doorstep and the imminent drought?

Here are five suggestions to live a lymphoedema-free life, especially in the ‘Summertime.’

The biggest risk factor is Body Mass Index (BMI). Your BMI is your very simple weight- for- height index. It classifies if you are underweight (<than 18.50), within normal range (18,50-24,99), overweight (25.00-30.00) or obese (>30-00).

A BMI over 25.00 will tend to promote the development of lymphoedema. It is important to enjoy a low fat diet and keep your body fat to a minimum. Remember if you have had an oestrogen tumour, fat cells do act as an oestrogen factory. Calculate your BMI.

Heat – Anything above 29o C can bring on swelling. Avoid hot showers, baths, saunas and steam showers -stay cool! Do not apply hot or cold packs on the potentially affected areas (breast, trunk and arm). Avoid getting sunburnt, especially irradiated areas. Limit your time spent outside in the summer months (during the hotter parts of the day between 11:00 and 15:00). You can wrap the affected area with a cold wet towel to cool it down. If you are doing a lot of heated Christmas cooking, pace yourself.

Do not forget meticulous Skin Care. Keep your skin well moisturised with cream that has a PH of 5,5 and is free of alcohol and a fragrance. Dry your skin thoroughly after your bath or swimming. Dry well between your toes and fingers, as well as your underarm and under you breasts. Check for fungal infections, cracks and rashes. After your refreshing swim in the pool, moisturise your skin well as the chlorine may dry it out.

Lack of Exercise can cause the lymphatic system to become sluggish. Discuss proper exercise and activities with your therapist. Walk! Walk! Walk!

Nutrition. In summer remember to drink lots of water to keep yourself hydrated. For crunchy snacks choose fresh, raw vegetables, rather than potato chips. Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day! Avoid more than 3 natural diuretics per day e.g. coffee, tea, fizzy drinks and alcohol. Avoid salty foods. As discussed avoid fatty foods that raise your BMI.

Lymphoedema must be treated as soon as possible in order to prevent further complications! Part 2 of this article in the upcoming Jan/Feb issue, will give more suggestions to live a lymphoedema-free life during summer.

Written By Sue Serebro.

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