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Protecting Lymphedema Patients During Surgery


Tissues affected by lymphedema, or at risk of developing it, must be carefully protected during all surgical procedures. 
When you need surgery, it is important that your surgeon, and all members of the surgical team, understand your risks and the essential protective steps.

As the patient, it is your responsibility to inform your surgical treatment so they understand your special needs. This article contains the basic information you will need and you are welcome to use it for this purpose.


  • Patients with Stage 1 lymphedema are 1,000 times greater risk of developing a tissue infection than are individuals without this risk.
  • Patients with Stage 2 lymphedema are at 27 times greater risk than individuals at stage 1.
  • Patients with Stage 3 lymphedema are at 72 times greater risk than those at stages 1 or 2.


  • Before your surgery, have your surgeon consult with your lymphedema therapist concerning lymphedema risks during and after the surgery. This includes having the patient wear a compression garment during surgery.
    Also by arranging to have the therapist perform Manual lymph drainage (MLD) before and after the surgery
  • Identify which patients have lymphedema, or at risk of developing it. A pink color coded band is often used for this purpose. Your hospital should have a protocol and be trained to should follow it!
  • Antibiotics administration. Lymphedema affected patients are at very high risk of infection and antibiotic administration should be planned to lower this risk.
  • Always avoid blood pressure readings on an affected limb. A blood pressure cuff can alter, or damage, lymphatic function within the area. When the patient is transferred from the OR to recovery, never allow the blood pressure cuff to be transferred to the” at risk” arm!
  • Avoid any injection, blood draw, arterial stick, or finger prick in the affected limb. These procedures break in the skin can lead to an infection.
  • Avoid any IV placement in the affected limb. This breaks the skin and, if the medication leaks out of the blood vessel, this can further irritate these tissues.


There are steps that the patient can take to be certain that their "at risk" limb is clearly identified.



  • Lymphedema Management: The Comprehensive Guide for Practitioners 2nd Edition by J.E. Zuther. Thieme 2009, pages 91-95.
  • Lymphedema Caregiver’s Guide by M. K. Kearse PT, CLT-LANA, E. McMahon PhD, and A. Ehrlich MA. Lymph Notes 2009.
  • Perioperative Guidelines for Surgery on the Edematous Limb by W. Farrow, MD. Lymph Link, Vol 19, No 4, Oct-Dec 2007.

© LymphNotes.com 2014.This information does not replace the advice of a qualified health care professional.

Got a question or comment? Post in the 'Living With Lymphedema' forum.
Category: Living With Lymphedema Updated: 2018-11-18


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