Lymphoedema

Lymphoedema

If any part of the lymphatic system becomes damaged, cellular functioning becomes significantly compromised and lymphoedema occurs.

What is Lymphoedema?

To understand Lymphoedema, it is important to first understand how the Lymphatic System works:

The Lymphatic System forms part of our immune system. It is a system formed of numerous microscopic lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes which work to rid our tissues of fluid and infection. The Lymphatic System works in conjunction with our circulatory system. Fluid filters out of the vein and capillary walls into the surrounding tissues. In this fluid there are all kinds of cells: white blood cells, proteins, hormones and toxins.

The lymphatic ‘collectors’ collect the fluid which is then transported through a network of vessels to the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are like filtration stations. They filter the fluid, producing immune cells called lymphocytes which target and destroy any damaging cells. The cleansed, filtered fluid is then recirculated into the lymphatic system, which eventually spills back into the circulatory system at our collar bones.

If any part of the lymphatic system becomes damaged, for example, due to surgery, trauma, burns or infection, lymph circulation becomes compromised, fluid stagnates, proteins, cells and toxins accumulate, cellular functioning becomes significantly compromised and lymphoedema occurs.

There are two types of Lymphoedema:

Primary

This is determined from birth. It may be due to either hypoplasia (too few), or hyperplasia (too many) of the lymphatic vessels during development in the womb. Lymphoedema may develop without any obvious cause at any stage in life. However, it is more common in adolescence and during puberty or hormonal changes.

Secondary

This is as a result of outside causes, i.e. something that happens to the body/lymphatic system to cause its breakdown.

  • Surgery – especially when there is lymph node removal, such as dissection of nodes during surgery for cancer.
  • Radiotherapy – this destroys cancer cells, but very commonly damages tissues causing thickening and fibrosis.
  • Accidental trauma or injury.
  • Infection – cellulitis is a common cause of lymphoedema in an already compromised lymphatic system.

Treatment for Lymphoedema

Once a positive diagnosis is given for lymphoedema, DLT will be recommended.