Alcohol + Lymphedema

Hey, everyone!

There are a lot of do’s and don’ts that come along with lymphedema, but probably one of the more annoying ones is the effect of alcohol. Alcohol has a diuretic effect, which stimulates the kidneys to excrete more fluid. Let’s not forget to mention the expanding blood vessels, which increase the amount of fluid that accumulates in the body tissues. The lymphatic system is supposed to remove all this extra fluid but, with lymphedema, this is obviously more of a problem.

When I drink, I often feel a tingling in my affected leg, and it will get a little warm and swell a bit. I’ve cut back on drinking recently (mostly due to another medical condition), but it’s very difficult – especially being a college student! I don’t like having to reshape my lifestyle according to my medical issues, but unfortunately that’s what I have do to keep them in check. I’m not gonna lie – I miss drinking, a lot, and I’ll still indulge every now and then. I make sure not to over-indulge, however, and will avoid hard liquor, sticking mostly with beer. I’ve realized that my body is the only one I’ll get, and I have to treat it right.

What about you? Do you find that drinking alcohol affects your lymphedema, or no? How often do you drink? Leave a comment!

Alexa is a writer, book hoarder, and cat enthusiast from Baltimore, MD. By day, she works in the marketing and communications department for a large health system; by night, she runs The Lymphie Life. Learn more about her here!

26 comments on “Alcohol + Lymphedema

  1. excellent point made! young people may not even realize the connection of odd physical feelings with their lymphedema. (when they are consuming alcohol) at least they will understand the consequences ond physical symptoms of drinking. maybe they can learn to slow down when they start feeling certain physical clues. you shouldn`t be drinking at all with lymphedema but —let`s be realistic!j

  2. What about other effects and toxins like poison and liver disease? Tell more, explain more, and live more happy!

  3. I’m a college student too and recently have become more aware of the effects my drinking has on my lymphedema. I find it hard to avoid alcohol considering all of my friends drink and I’m a member of greek life, and us greeks tend to drink more than the average college student! I do find that those nights where I may drink a lot my foot is so swollen that I can’t bear to wear my shoes for another minute! One thing that I find interesting though…since alcohol is a diuretic, shouldn’t the tea that I drink all day in classes have the same effect on me?

    • Diuretics are a common debate in the lymphedema community, although I align more with the anti-diuretic standing. They just don’t remove the protein-rich lymph fluid effectively, if at all. Some people say it’s alright to use them occasionally, but I’d check with a doctor before trying it out.

      Argh, I can’t imagine being a member of greek life as a lymphie! That must be difficult. I’ve been sober for the past three months or so and it’s made a difference, not just with my leg, but it’s a very very hard lifestyle change to make. Moderation is key! Try and keep your feet elevated whenever you can when you’re drinking, or at least try not to be standing for long periods of time. Treat your body right and it will treat you right, too :)

      Best of luck to you!

  4. Samantha

    I’ve been dealing with Stage 1 lymphedema for about 5 years and found that I can have small amounts of wine with no negative effects but I have severely restricted my diet. I switched to Paleo eating a while back but recently reduced the amount of protein I eat and upped the fruits and veggies. WOW. what a difference. Avoiding, carbs, salt and dairy is already hard – but worth it so I can have some wine now and then. Check out Paleo – it seems designed for lymphedema? I am not a doctor but so far that is the only thing that’s worked. It also has a nice side benefit of weight loss – which is also good for reducing the swelling. Right now – the most difficult thing is eating at restaurants. The salt monster lurks everywhere. I stick to salads and plain grilled fish/meat. Kinda boring but MUCH better than sitting in a bar thinking about my legs starting to swell while everyone else is having fun :( At home i bake/grill/saute all my veggies with fresh herbs, olive oil and other seasonings. It takes getting used to but I feel so good! I always have fresh fruit salad in the fridge to curb any snacky-carb cravings and of course I am in love with avocados and now brussel sprouts? Very weird to me as a former meat and potato gal! I haven’t been able to give up my black coffee either – but only in the mornings.

    Jess – you should be okay in college if you change your diet and drink in moderation. I think most dining halls have salad bars these days – even better if you live in an apartment and can cook yourself. I know that will be hard – I drank a LOT in college, but think of it as a good way for you to do other things? I recommend cycling club :)

  5. One glass of wine and my extremities get puffy. Urgghh. I have to really want a cocktail. Then I drink a lot of water.

  6. Why is alcohol taboo for people with lymphadmea? How much is too much? What does it do? Thank you

  7. Wow! This totally makes sense. I am an entertainer and was hired to work on a cruise ship (I know, a hard life, yeah?) Well this cruise was 20 days long and all inclusive which means all I want to eat (I’m sure quite salty) and drink any time I want. I love single malt scotch and I had a few each night but I don’t usually drink that much at home, in fact I have pretty much stopped drinking at home. It’s very easy to drink however when it’s just flowing with no financial commitment and I don’t even have to drive home. And if your glass is almost empty, they come and pour you more without you even asking!! Wow! Finally had to start covering my glass like if they were pouring coffee. Never experienced anything like it. Well, both of my legs swelled horribly on the cruise. Only one of my legs usually gives me trouble. Then two days after getting home my legs went back to their normal state!! My guess is the combination of the flight, the salty food, and the drinking is what caused the problem.

  8. [ am fairly new with lymphedema..i have rh arthritis and have had numerous surgeries that include 8 hip replacements. I also had uterine cancer and had a hysterectomy and 8 weeks of radiation. My point in giving this history is because my doc told me that all the trauma i had on my leg combined with radiation was the cause for the lymphedema. Presently i am on restrictions and using crutches because my left hip prosthesis is loose again and i may be facing complicated hip revision surgery soon. I would like to be in the best possible physical condition prior to surgery regarding the lymphedema. During my recovery from my last surgery which was approx 2 years ago when a plate was put in my leg because my left femer broke in 3 places I have been plaqued with the consequences of the lymphedema. None of my doctors are very helpful and I am just starting on my quest for information and help from the community who know the most about this condition – my fellow sufferers. My left leg is the worse but both legs are affected. When the swelling is bad my leg aches and aches and i can not even touch it. the next day if the swelling has subsided it still is painful to the touch and it is lumpy and bumpy in several areas not the entire lower leg as usual Is this normal and can anyone tell me what helps for them Also i see people talking about primary and secondary lymphedema . What is the difference although i think i can figure that out. Please any information is helpful. Forgive all spelling and puncuation errors. I had no intention of going on and on…..

    • Amanda D

      I ended up with lymphedema as a result of a biopsy and for me it pools in certain spots worse than others, particularly my hip and a certain section of my thigh. I am guessing by now you’ve received some answers though since your post was several months ago. I use a combination of compression nylons which were custom fit (due to the less common locations of swelling), special wraps that really push the fluid out if I have let the swelling progress more than usual, and what I call a swell-pad which is made of foam and provided through my therapy for lymphedema. It goes under the wraps or under the nylons in whatever location is giving me the most trouble. When I travel I routinely wear the swell pad over my hip (its where most of my swelling occurs and is the most painful) with compression shorts, followed by my compression nylons. From what I was told by my doctor and therapist, the spots of fluid or bumps of fluid is not as typical, for most it flows down and pools around the ankle. But know that you aren’t alone, it does happen and its just a matter of finding the right combination of techniques to handle your specific swelling issues. If you haven’t been fitted for compression nylons do so now. It will save you a lot of pain and swelling. I do wear them any time I am active and especially when it is warm out, I notice a huge increase in swelling with warmer temperatures – I know they are less than comfortable especially in the heat but at least I can sleep at night and not be in pain from swelling. :) Anyways sorry for rambling and I hope this helps you… or someone at least!

    • Susan paton

      I’m 68 years old and had lymphedema since hysterectomy age 31. It was mostly under control until a year ago when I had knee replacement and now I’m suffering almost daily. I don’t know what to do. I’m also overweight which complicates the problem. It seems there is very little that I can eat that doesn’t cause swelling & when my leg is swollen it becomes like a wooden leg and my balance is bad & I fall often. My family dr has never heard of lymphedema and said she would have to look it up on her computer before she could help. I’m at my wits end.

      • Jo Pillinger

        Sorry to hear this Susan. I hope you will find a way to manage it. I don’t feel I have much advice for you other than elevating your legs up against the wall, although I expect you have done this. I found it helped me when my lymphedema was bad. I also found a good manual lymph drainage massage therapist – this definitely helped relieve the swelling and pain.
        I was pleasantly surprised that my condition has improved over the last 2 or 3 years, having been told that it wouldn’t. So don’t give up!
        Wishing you healing and all the best

  9. AnyaOnslaught

    I’m 23 and I’ve been a lymphie for about 5 years now. One drink and I get fluid buildup! I had a few good days and it slipped my mind, had 3 Irish coffees yesterday. Today, I can barely stand to walk around :(
    Alcohol definitely increases my swelling. It’s a good thing I was never much for going out and partying.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience! I had similar issues when I drank, too, and it was one of the reasons I ended up stopping. Just wasn’t worth all the pain and swelling afterwards (not to mention the hangovers!). :)

      I think a drink now and then is fine, as long as we lymphies take the proper precautions before, during, and afterwards to minimize the impact as much as possible, like doing some MLD or wearing our compression garments. Moderation and self-care are key in any part of a lymphie’s life, it seems, and this is no exception!

      Hope you’re feeling better soon!

  10. I Got diagnosed with lympdodema 6 years ago. I’m 28 now. I noticed that when I drink my lymphedema acts up really bad. My legs go numb and my feet swell. They hurt constantly. I wear a brace for me to help support and that helps

  11. Elizabeth311FL

    I just put two and two together and realized that I have stage 1 lymphedema of the lower legs and feet. I find that when I drink white wine my feet and lower legs will ache and swell (sometimes quite a bit depending on how much wine I drink). I also recently had a full body massage and the technician said I retain a ton of water in my lower legs and feet due to dehydration and too much salt intake. So, basically I have to stop with the white wine and cut back significantly on salt (two of my favorites). But, I am grateful for the internet and for blogs such as these because I was able to kind of figure this out on my own and begin to change my lifestyle in a way that will minimize the symptoms of the lymphedema and ultimately make me a healthier person. It’s funny, and fascinating, how our own bodies tell us (by swelling, or similar adverse reaction) that we are doing something wrong and we need to change it. The key is to listen to those signals!!

  12. Katherine Stocks

    I just wanted to thank you all. I had three lymph nodes removed from my left groin during surgery for a stage 2 malignant melanoma 2 years ago. I had terrible lymphedema in the aftermath of the surgery and was hospitalised with sepsis. However, I’ve had a long period of stability with the leg and foot not so bad. I have been drinking more wine lately due to other pressures and had no idea that this might be the reason for a massive flare up in my leg and foot. I also smoke in the evenings. I’ve been having regular MLD but nothing seems to help. Reading these posts I’ve now resolved to lay off the booze, smokes and salt. I’m grateful for the advice and will let you know how I get on!

    • Hi, Katherine,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis but glad that you’ve reached a place of stability with your swelling! It’s so good to hear you’re going to moderate your intake of that troublesome trifecta of booze, smokes, and salt! It’s easy to discount them as harmful to our lymphedema because they’re fun and pleasurable things, but they can really affect our swelling in not-so-pleasurable ways.

      Shortly after writing this post, I had quit drinking altogether for a combination of reasons and it really helped reduce my swelling. It’s been over four years without alcohol, and although I still struggle with the smokes and salt sometimes, I am a lot more mindful of my intake and compensate with lots of water and consistent wearing of my compression garment (something I definitely did NOT do back when I was still partying and drinking!). On days when my leg feels “extra heavy” I do a little extra MLD or use my compression pump. It’s all about moderation and listening to your body, and being gentle with yourself!

      Please do let me know if you notice a difference in your leg after making those changes! Best of luck to you!!

  13. Ronald Eric Blackburn

    I always read of negative affects of drinking with lymohdemia but my experience is much different. I actually notice a huge decrease in my lymohdimeia in my neck after drinking beer. At first I thought it may just be coencidence but after 8 months I can say it happens every time I have a beer or two the night before I wake up to a much smaller and softer neck than before the beer. Idk why my experience is so much different than most I can only say this is what happens in my case.

  14. Hey, I have the same issue when I drink! I don’t drink as often as I used to as I’ve grown out of the whole going out 3 nights a week thing but when I do, I make sure I’m super strict on wearing my pump on the day of before I start drinking and the next day when I’m hungover (😂) i'”” sit on the couch or lay in bed with my pump on… I try really hard not to let it get in the way of my life.
    And when my leg starts to ache when I’m out drinking, that’s when I know it’s time to head home!

  15. Jo Pillinger

    Thanks for all the insights on here….I find coffee triggers my lymphodema. I can manage maybe 3 weak cups a week but more than that and I start to feel painful swellings where my lymph nodes were removed in the groin after a hysterectomy for cervical cancer.
    Alcohol can also trigger it but I seem to be able to manage spirits in moderation. No more late nights now though!

    • Hi, Jo,
      I’m glad you found the post helpful! It can be such a case of trial and error figuring out what we can consume and how much — knowing our limits and triggers are such an important part of symptom management. Glad to hear you’re attuned to yours :) and hooray for no more late nights!!

      Wishing you continued health,

  16. Caroline

    Thank you so much for this article! And the comments too. I have had Lymphodema for 26 years and, against all odds, I have managed well over the years. However, I am now finding alcohol intake greatly impacts my swelling and not being able to wear my shoes today after having red wine last night was a rude awakening!! I never speak about this condition to anyone and this blog is a safe refuge for me in many ways. Today, I am inspired to start a new chapter focused on clean living.

    Thanks Alexa!

  17. Brenda Odell

    Zoe,you mentioned using a pump on your leg. What type of pump is it?

  18. Pingback: 10 Years of The Lymphie Life: What a Decade of Lymphedema Blogging Taught Me

  19. Still a topic?

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