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What is the Role of the Lymph System?

Lymphedema is a condition that can have an enormous impact on health and quality of life. Those who have a higher risk for lymphedema often want to understand the mechanisms that are behind their symptoms. We discuss that here.

What is the Lymph System?

The lymph system, or lymphatic system, is a network of tissues, vessels, and organs that carry lymph through the body.

  • Lymph is a colorless fluid that carries the white blood cells called T and B lymphocytes. These are two types of several different white blood cells.
  • Lymph vessels are similar to the system of veins and vessels that carry the blood. These small tubes pick up lymph fluid from various parts of the body and pass it back to the bloodstream.
  • Lymph nodes are small structures that filter lymph as the fluid passes through them. The nodes store white blood cells, which are necessary for infection and disease prevention. There is a large network of lymph nodes, through which the lymph vessels pass. Nodes are located in the neck, underarm, abdomen, pelvis, and groin. Also important to the lymph system are the bone marrow, tonsils, thymus, and spleen.

How the Lymph System Works

When blood flows through the body, plasma and fluid seep from the smallest blood vessels called capillaries. Cells in the body pick up oxygen and nutrients this way. Some of the fluid that seeps out returns to the bloodstream. The rest moves into tiny lymph vessels that travel toward the heard. The vessels get progressively larger as they near the heart, and they pass through lymph nodes, where waste is filtered from the fluid.

The lymph that continually moves through the system of vessels accumulates near the neck and then travels through one of two ducts that empty lymph into veins that carry it to the heart. This is how lymph is returned to the bloodstream. The left lymph duct collects lymph from both legs, as well as the left arm and left side of the chest and head. The right duct collects lymph from the right arm and right side of the chest and head.

Lymphedema occurs when a blockage or damage affects any part of the lymph system. Without sufficient processing, lymph accumulates in soft tissues, where swelling and other symptoms develop.

Dr. Ketan Patel is a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon who specializes in complex cases, including lymphedema. If you are living with the ongoing symptoms of this condition, call our Glendale office at 323-442-7920 to schedule a consultation.

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