Hand swells like a balloon at night - any recommendations please?


Guys, My mother's hand swells like a ballon at night. She was told to keep her hands above the heart, while sleeping, but it's difficult to maintain during sleep. Have seen multiple doctors but everyone says it's aging. She is 80 years old. Can you guys please recommend some treatments, which can resolve this issue? This issue keeps her up all night, most of the days.



Thank you for the response. It is very helpful to know that it is related to cancer. Although her cancer doctor has left the practice and she didn't know about this issue as she only recommended her to keep her hand on the heart, when sleeping. I will do more research about lymphodemia. I do remember her lymph nodes were removed during the cancerous surgery.
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Reply to Sid001

Also if in the past your mother had a catheter placed in her neck or chest the blood vessel’s diameter could be smaller and develop into what is called a venous stenosis. I would have her evaluated by a vascular surgeon too who can order non invasive Doppler studies to measure the diameters of those big veins. An option could be a balloon angioplasty to open the vessel and improve venous circulation to the arm. 
Yes that arm can swell if it’s the same side as the mastectomy was done.
In the meantime, try to continue to elevate her arm above her heart, have her exercise the hand (get a tennis ball & have her squeeze it several times an hour) & limit salt.
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Reply to Shane1124

Sid, I know only a bit about lymphedema, having attended a free lecture sponsored by a division of a large hospital complex in this area. The therapist (occupational, I think) was a specialist in it.

I saw it later when a relative suffered from it. I don't want to frighten you, but it is unsettling and scary.

I did some quick checking, for you, trying to find out the kind of doctor who would treat lymphedema.

I did find a good synopsis at:

www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/lymphedema/what-is-lymphedema.html. If this URL is truncated, google lymphedema, and click on the article "What is cancer-related lymphedema?"

The article recommends finding a "certified lymphedema specialist" by contacting:

Lymphology Association of North America (LANA)

National Lymphedema Network (NLN)

The Mayo Clinic also has a general, brief synopsis on lymphedema.

I did find that a vascular doctor can treat lymphedema. Google "lymphedema, treating doctors" and you'll get a lot of hits. It seems like the big clinics, like Mayo and Johns Hopkins, may have clinics, or at least specialize in this. The best hits were from that particular google search.

What I would also do is contact the oncologist who treated your mother for breast cancer and ask if he/she knows a good vascular specialist, or another doctor, who can treat your mother.

Just googled "CURE magazine, lymphedema" and got a lot of good hits and articles by others who've deal with this challenge. CURE magazines focuses on many aspects of cancer, ranging from scientific to practical.

One good article is the Prevention of Lymphedema in Patients with Breast Cancer, the 7th hit. The following article on possible prevention has good insights - weightlifting has been shown to minimize the effect of lymphedema. One pound weights were recommended.

I think the recommendation to keep her hand on her heart is nominal and nowhere near the treatment she would get from a real lymphedema specialist, who could also diagnose the swelling to determine if it is in fact lymphedema or something else. That would be my course of action.

And the oncologist who treated her would know whether any lymph nodes were affected.

Let me know if you have any more questions. I hope the research I've done helps you.

And good luck with this; I don't want to be a naysayer, but it does have the potential to become worse. I've seen it.
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Reply to GardenArtist

Oh you're 110% on the facts. Yes, 2 years back she had a breast cancer surgery. We never thought that surgery would have this impact. Can you please tell, what can we do now to help her not have this swell, which she says is very painful. Doctors only say to keep her hand on heart, when sleeping. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
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Reply to Sid001

Is it just one hand? Has she ever had surgery, such as cancer surgery, that affected her lymph nodes? Is her diet high in sodium?

My first thought was lymphedema, which is why I asked about surgery that might damage a lymph node on one side, in one area.

Does this hand weep when it swells?

Has she been diagnosed with CHF? That can cause a type of swelling resulting in hard flesh.
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Reply to GardenArtist

Only her hands, not her feet too?

I have no idea if it would help, but could you try wrist splints? If my hands bend at the wrist when I am sleeping I wake up with completely numb hands (not gone to sleep followed by pins and needles). I cannot pick up anything, nor move my fingers very well. But If I keep my hands in line with my arms (no bend at the wrist), I wake up with my hands ok. I have learned to sleep without bending at the wrist most the time. I discovered what was causing the problem when I had to wear a wrist splint for 8 weeks and that wrist was ok in the morning.
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Reply to Tothill

This is hard. I am assuming she sleeps on that side on her arm. All I can think of is a hospital bed or lounge chair where she is in a partial sitting position. This would keep her arms at her side or in her lap.
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Reply to JoAnn29