The Lymph System and Lymphedema
Lymph fluid is formed in the tissues of the body. The fluid is heavy with proteins and cellular wastes. Lymph vessels absorb and transport this fluid to lymph nodes. Nodes filter impurities in the fluid and propel it to the great veins of the neck where lymph joins the blood on its way to the heart. When the lymphatic system is impaired, the flow of tissue fluid slows. Fluid floods the tissues and causes swelling of an extremity, the trunk, head/face or genitals. The two classifications are:
- Primary lymphedema has no obvious cause and may occur at birth or through life. It more commonly affects the legs and is more common among women.
- Secondary lymphedema is best known as a consequence to treatment of cancers. It may develop due to any surgery, severe trauma, infection or venous disease. Onset may occur at the time of illness or trauma or it can develop years to decades later.
Symptoms of Lymphedema
Heaviness, discomfort and/or pain and limitations of movement/endurance/function
Symptoms of Advanced Lymphedema
Repeated infections; lymph leakage and/or slow healing wounds; cosmetic changes and difficulties; decreased self-confidence
Enloe Regional Cancer Center, Lymphedema Program
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