Lymphedema commonly affects one of the arms or legs. In some cases, both arms or both legs may be affected. Some patients may experience swelling in the head, genitals or chest. It is often a consequence of surgically removing the lymph nodes in the armpit (axilla) or groin, or their damage caused by radiotherapy. The normal drainage of lymphatic fluid is faulty. Lymphedema can also be caused by a tumor which presses on lymphatic vessels.
Lymphedema is incurable. However, with diligent care it can be controlled. What is the lymphatic system?The lymphatic system consists of the tissues and organs that produce and store cells that fight disease and infection. They include the bone marrow, thymus, lymph nodes and spleen, as well as the channels that carry lymph.
Most of us know about the circulation system that pumps blood from the heart to the rest of the body. A significant number of individuals, however, are not aware that the body also has a second circulation system - the lymphatic system.
There is a series of vessels and glands (lymph nodes) that comprise the lymphatic system. They are spread throughout the body, in a similar way to blood vessels.
The lymphatic system has three main functions:
Fighting infection - the lymphatic system transports a watery, clear fluid full of lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are infection-fighting cells. The white fluid is known as lymph.
- Draining excess fluid - after blood has circulated through tissues it leaves fluids and proteins behind; these are waste products. The excess fluid is drained through tiny capillaries and into the lymphatic system. After filtering out bacteria, viruses and other undesirable substances or organisms, the clean fluid is then returned to the blood. This filtering is done by the lymphatic system.
- Lipid (fat) absorption - the lymphatic system also absorbs lipids from the intestine and transports them to the blood. A disruption to the lymphatic system can eventually undermine its ability to drain fluid properly, resulting in excess fluid (swelling) in parts of the body. Patients with lymphoma have a higher risk of infection complications because their lymphocytes cannot reach parts of the body where swelling occurs. Cellulitis.,,a type of bacterial skin infection, is a common infection for patients with lymphedema.