Treatment – Basic Limb-Care and Compression Garment
The biggest enemy of limbs edema is bacterial infection.
Each bacterial infection destroys the remaining lymphatic vessels, making the lymphatic functions become worse and worse. Edema will become more and more serious.
The basic daily care is to avoid wounds on the limbs with lymphedema, such as keeping hands and feet clean and dry, avoiding mosquito bites, and quitting some bad habits including finger/nail biting.
If you have dermatophytosis or gray nails (such as fungal infection), you should get medical attention immediately.
In addition to bacterial infections, patients should avoid wearing tight clothing that may make it worse.
Obesity can also cause edema becomes more serious. Patients should pay attention to their weight.
Swelling of the upper/lower limbs not only affects the appearance, but also reduces the range of physical activity, which in turn affects the patient's daily life, including self-care ability, work ability, and leisure activities.
Occupational therapists will design suitable compression garments for the patient to reduce the degree of swelling. Compression garments can create tension around the affected limb, control the swelling area, and avoid the accumulation of body fluids to control edema.
Compression garments for the upper limbs are compression armsleeves and gloves, and for unilateral or bilateral lymphedema of the lower limbs, it is recommended to use compression thighpiece with kneepiece/legpiece/footpiece with liner.
Compression garments must be measured by healthcare professionals for proper fitting. If it is too tight, blood circulation could be restricted due to excessive compression. If it is too loose, swelling could be hard to control.
Compression Garment Classes:
- Class I (20-30 mmHg): suitable for the prevention or control of the early stage of lymphedema
- Class II (30-40 mmHg): suitable for the control of moderate lymphedema
- Class III (40-50 mmHg): suitable for the control of severe lymphedema
Precautions for Wearing Compression Garments
- Generally, compression garments must be worn most of the day.
- You can take off your compression garments before taking a shower and wear it back as soon as possible after the shower.
- If there is swelling, numbness or tingling (pins and needles), loss of sensation or discoloration (turn blue/purple) in the areas such as upper/lower limbs, fingertips and toes, please take off the compression garments and contact your therapist.
- When wearing the compression garments, your skin may be itchy for a short period of time. Don't worry, this is normal.
- The length and tightness of the compression garments cannot be modified by yourself because it is provided by your therapist after assessment.
- Compression garments can be washed with soap or washing powder in clean water. Do not use hot water.
- Air-dry at room temperature. Do not ironing or expose it to direct.
(Source: Hong Kong Lymphedema Association)
Dr. Lawrence Hin-Lun LIU
Founder of Hong Kong Lymphedema Association
Honorary Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Surgery, HKU