Swelling is an increase in the size or a change in the shape of an area of the body. Swelling can be caused by collection of body fluid, tissue growth, or abnormal movement of tissue. Swelling is a common symptom after any surgery and may affect your breast, chest wall, shoulder and arm. It is a normal part of the healing process and should lessen six to eight weeks
after your surgery. If the swelling is uncomfortable and feels heavy, try wearing a supportive bra. It may help to wear it day and night.
Swelling is a natural inflammatory reaction of the body to injury. It occurs when damage occurs to the small blood vessels called capillaries which leak fluid into the surrounding tissue. The increased blood flow is largely responsible for the telltale symptoms of inflammation. The rush of warm blood causes redness, heat and swelling. At the same time, pressure from the swelling and the accumulation of immune cells, along with the destructive chemicals released by the cells, irritate local nerve endings and cause pain.
If the swelling persists for longer than two months after your surgery, particularly if you have had your lymph nodes (glands) removed, tell your breast care nurse or cancer specialist. S/he may arrange for you to see a lymphoedema specialist who can decide whether your swelling is persistent post-operative swelling or an early sign of lymphoedema (swelling caused by a build-up of lymph fluid in the tissues).
Causes of localized swelling include: Cyst. Bruising (contusion). Abscess. Bursitis near or inside a joint. Swollen organ, such as a salivary gland. Accumulation of fluid in the abdomen (ascites). Blood clot, such as thrombophlebitis. Infection. Infections can occur in a joint or under the skin without an injury, but most infections develop after an injury. Inflammation, when tissue is irritated by overuse or repeated motion, such as tendinitis. Injury to a specific body area. Use of an intravenous (IV) needle. Fluid collection (edema) from the effects of gravity, such as from staying in one position too long (dependent edema). Heat-related problems, such as heat edema from working or being active in a hot environment.
Causes of generalized swelling or inflammation include: Allergic reaction. Sudden swelling of the hands and face may be a severe allergic reaction and needs immediate medical evaluation. Autoimmune diseases. Medication. Some medications change how body fluids circulate, causing swelling. Swelling may also occur as an allergic reaction to a medication. Heat-related illnesses. Malnutrition. Circulation problems, related to certain medical conditions: Peripheral vascular disease (PVD), Heart failure, Diabetes, Kidney disease, Liver disease, Venous insufficiency.
Causes of localized or generalized swelling include:
Medical procedures. Some people may experience swelling as a reaction to a medical treatment or surgery. Swelling from a medical treatment may be related to the procedure or to a substance, such as dye, used during the procedure. Some swelling at the site of surgery is normal, such as swelling of the arm after a mastectomy. Swelling may also occur at an intravenous (IV) site used during a procedure or at an IV site used for medications given at home. Injury-related causes, such as a motor vehicle accident. Menstrual periods. Some women may notice swelling during their menstrual cycles from retaining fluid, which is related to hormonal changes. Pregnancy. Some women experience mild swelling in their hands or feet during pregnancy. Swelling in the feet may be more noticeable in the third trimester of the pregnancy. Generalized swelling can be a sign of pregnancy-induced hypertension (preeclampsia). Mild swelling will usually go away on its own. Home treatment may help relieve symptoms.
Swelling and pain are very common with injuries. When you have swelling, you should look for other symptoms of injury that may need to be evaluated by your health professional. Mild swelling will usually go away on its own. Home treatment may help relieve symptoms. Swelling and pain are very common with injuries. When you have swelling, you should look for other symptoms of injury that may need to be evaluated by your health professional. Rest and protect a sore area. Stop, change, or take a break from any activity that may be causing your pain or soreness. Elevate the injured or sore area on pillows while applying ice and any time you are sitting or lying down. Try to keep the area at or above the level of your heart to help minimize swelling. Avoid sitting or standing without moving for prolonged periods of time. Exercising the legs decreases the effect of gravity so swelling goes down. A low-sodium diet may help reduce swelling. Keep your skin cool in hot environments.
If you are pregnant, follow your health professional's instructions on how to treat swelling. The following home treatment may also help relieve symptoms. Elevate your legs as often as possible. Avoid sitting or standing without moving for prolonged periods of time. Limit the amount of salt in your diet.
The following tips may help prevent swelling: Do not sit with your feet hanging down for long periods of time. Elevate your feet whenever possible. Watch the amount of salt in your diet. Exercise regularly. Warm up and stretch before exercising. Drink enough fluids and keep your skin cool in hot environments. Avoid repetitive motions or take breaks often to rest a body area. Take medications as instructed. If swelling occurs often, discuss with your health professional if taking your medication at another time of day would decrease the swelling. If you have a chronic medical condition or are pregnant, follow your health professional's instructions on how to prevent swelling and when to call to report your symptoms.