Lymphatic fluid circulates throughout your body and is essential to keep your tissues healthy and plays a major role in fighting off infections.
Lymph, which is made of proteins, fats, glucose, water, and fragments of blood cell contains white blood cells which can fight off infections. Plasma protein molecules in lymph are plenty. Disruption to the lymphatic system, which is a network of vessels, tissues, and organs, can make filtering out these protein molecules harder.
As lymph fluid drains into the soft tissues, swelling of the skin, tissues, and underlying structures can occur anywhere in the body, but it is most commonly visible in the arms and legs. Damage or disruption in lymphatic drainage can lead to lymphedema, swelling caused by excess lymphatic fluid. The swelling would be protein rich and bacteria feeds on the protein. Hence, people with lymphedema are prone to infections and they should stay away from injuries, or any kind of trauma to the affected region.
An experienced and well-informed physician can accurately establish the diagnosis of lymphedema by studying the patient’s medical history and by performing a physical examination. Doctor will assess the severity of the fluid built up by measuring the circumference of the affected and swollen body parts.
What causes lymphedema?
Experts believe that primary lymphedema is caused by genetic mutation due to which the lymphatic system is improperly developed and its ability to effectively drain fluids is weakened.
Cancer treatments: The possibility of cancer spreading through the lymphatic system is high. When doctors remove the lymph nodes to avoid the spread, the lymphatic system may be get affected and it can further lead to lymphedema.
Radiation therapy: Cancer surgery is followed by radiation and chemotherapy. These can cause skin inflammation and scarring to the lymphatic tissues. Sometimes lymph nodes or vessels may get removed or damaged leading to an impaired transport of lymph throughout the system.
Infection: In India, a very common cause of lymphedema is a parasitic infection, called filariasis. Lymphatic Filariasis is caused by infection with the parasitic nematodes and is transmitted through mosquitoes.
Vascular impairments: Re-routing of fluids in the human body, around 80% – 90%, is performed by the venous system.
In case of a vascular impairment or venous insufficiency, the lymphatic system helps to filter the fluids. However, untreated chronic venous diseases can lead to lymphedema as the lymphatic system might fail to carry the excess lymphatic load and in due course may start to swell.
Damage to kidneys: We are aware of the role of kidneys in removing the extra fluids and waste products from our body. When kidneys fail, it can reduce the ability to drain fluids backing up the entire system and the associated swelling can lead to lymphedema.
How to detect the Early signs of lymphedema
These signs may occur even before any swelling is visualized:
- Puffiness of the skin
- Both legs and arms may appear slightly disproportionate
- You may observe that your veins in your hands or feet are hard to be seen
- You realize that the joints have turned inflexible and tight
If you notice any of these, call your healthcare provider immediately. Though Lymphedema is incurable, an early start of treatment will ensure that the swelling and associated pain is under control. Our doctors at Avis vascular center can help you to effectively manage the condition.
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