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The Lymphatic System and Lymphoedema

The Lymphatic System

The Lymphatic System

  The lymphatic system and Lymphoedema go hand in hand.  If the lymphatic system is compromised for any reason Lymphoedema occur. The lymphatic is part of two systems:        

The Circulatory System

The Circulatory system pushes blood from the heart via the arteries and capillaries. Fluid and protein from the blood leak into the tissues and this filtered fluid is returned to the veins via the lymphatic system.

 The Immune System

The lymphatic circulation is a major component of our immune system and not only returns leaked fluid and protein from the tissues back to the blood but also acts as a garbage collector and returns waste product such as
  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Fat cells debris
  • Fungi
  • Parasites
  • Cancer cells
back to the lymph nodes which alert the immune system to get ready for processing and clean up. Lymphoedema occurs when the lymphatic system has been compromised and this may be primary or secondary lymphoedema. Primary can show itself at any age and may be present as a baby or develop for no apparent reason as an adult. Secondary is acquired due to damage to the lymphatic system and can be caused for many reasons:
  • Traumatic occurrences such as a major burn or accident where the lymphatic vessels are severed.
  • Repeated bouts of local infections causing damage to the lymph nodes.
  • Filariasis caused by larvae carried in the stomach transmitted by mosquitoes at night in tropical regions. The worms cause the lymph vessels to dilate causing incompetent valves.
  • External compression of lymph vessels.
  • Blockage of lymph nodes or their removal.
  • Cancer of lymph nodes.
  • Cancer spreading through the lymphatic vessels.
Lymphoedema is a condition that must be carefully managed for the duration of the patient’s life. If managed well most people can lead a perfectly healthy and active lifestyle. The first step is to have the lymphoedeam diagnoses confirmed. Then in discussion with your health care practitioner determine if bandaging is required to reduce swelling prior to compression garments being ordered. Developing an exercise programme is also key to assisting the lymph moving throughout the body. Unlike the circultorary system the lymphatic system does not have a pump like the heart to push the lymph and is dependent on exercise to contract the muscles and tissue, which acts as the pump. Beneficial exercise may include:
  • Walking
  • Cycling
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Water Aerobics
  • Aqua Jogging
  • Daily physical exercise as advised by your healthy care practitioner specifically for Lymphoedema.
Avoid activities where you are required to hold a certain posture without movement for long periods of time or were your circulation may be reduced. If possible wear your compression garment. Please exercise under guidance of your health care practitioner and start out slowly. As part of your management plan you may need to consider Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD), which is a very slow and gentle treatment, used to encourage slow and sluggish lymph away from the swollen limb into the lymph nodes and vessels. Louise of Massage Central, Caloundra, offers Manual Lymphatic Drainage for Lymphoedema. Make your online booking at The Lymphoedema Association of Queensland offers excellent support and advise and can be contacted at 07 3269 1498. Email: Other useful sites are:                      Facebookmail




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