I had a double mastectomy a week ago. I have swelling under my arms. Should I use an ice pack to relieve the swelling?

Doctor Answers 4

Post mastectomy swelling

Some physicians avoid ice packs for postmastectomy swelling, but I find cold packs in the axilla are comforting, and relieve pain and swelling without compromising blood supply. The breast flaps are more vulnerable to blood supply problems so I wound not use cold on the chest wall. Since your sensation may be abnormal, make sure the packs are not too cold nor kept on the skin for too long - 10 minute intervals are generally safe and soothing. Swelling in the axilla may be due to fluid accumulation which may be aspirated or likely will resolve with time. Are your drains still in? if so they may not be draining the axilla well. If the swelling is associated with pain, a hard mass or redness, or enlarging, consult your doctor immediately to rule out a hematoma (bleeding) or infection. Good luck and take care.

Ice pack after mastectomy

In general I advise my post-mastectomy patients not to use an ice pack, and there are several reasons for this. The cold may compromise blood flow to an already compromised area, thus leading to delayed wound healing. Another possibility is that you can get frostbite, as the nerves in your under-arm area may have been affected by the surgery and unable to warn you when your skin is getting too cold. Of course every surgeon has his/her own preference, so I would defer to your reconstructive surgeon to definitively answer this. There is no right or wrong answer. 

Tracy Kayan, MD
Minneapolis Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 10 reviews

Swelling under arms

Generally ice is not recommended after this type of surgery due to it compromising the blood supply to the skin that is healing.  Discuss this with your surgeon to determine the cause and its correction. 

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I had a double mastectomy a week ago. I have swelling under my arms. Should I use an ice pack to relieve the swelling?

What you really need to do is see your surgeon ASAP to be re evaluated for this swelling in axillary area. 

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.