Lymphedema: what is this pathology, what are its symptoms and treatment

Some diseases add to their symptoms the risk of being confused with other pathologies and thus delay their treatment. Sometimes because their symptoms are not specific and specific and therefore it is difficult to know exactly what happens to us, and sometimes because these are very similar to others of less importance that delay us seeking the help we need.

The lifedema is one of these. At first it seems a very marked fluid retention,because the body members begin to swell, but in reality it is a chronic disease that affects the lymphatic system and requires treatment.

What is lymphedema?

As we say, lifedema is a chronic pathology that causes inflammation of the tissues . Although it can affect any part of the body, it usually begins with the legs or arms.

When the lymphatic system is damaged or blocked, the lymph accumulates in the tissues and spaces between the cells and causes inflammation.

It happens when the lifatic system does not work correctly. This system is a network of glands and ducts that runs throughout the body and helps fight infections and eliminate excess fluid. Lymph iscirculating through these ducts , a whitish fluid with a high content of white blood cells .

When the lymphatic system is damaged or blocked, the lymph accumulates in the tissues and spaces between cells and causes inflammations that can get worse and cause serious damage if left untreated.

Symptoms of lymphedema

The main symptom is the progressive swelling of some part of the body, often an arm or a leg. Little by little it is getting harder to introduce that member in clothes and watches, bracelets and rings that could be worn without difficulty suddenly begin to tighten more and more.


The swelling is often intermittent, and may get worse during the day and then decrease at night. If a treatment is not applied, it usually becomes more severe and progressive .

Other symptoms that may appear are a painful feeling of heaviness , difficulty in movements, wounds and infections in the skin, tightness and suppurations.

What can cause a lifedema?

There are two types of lenfedema, with different causes.

Primary lymphedema

A primary lifedema is caused by alterations in the genes responsible for the development of the lymphatic system. The responsible genes cause that the lifático system, that is in charge to drain the excesses of liquid, does not work as it should.

Primary lymphedema is often a hereditary disease , although not all people born with these disorders develop the disease.

Secondary lymphedema

Secondary lymphedema develops in people who previously had a normal lymphatic system that has been damaged .

This can happen for many reasons, the most common are the following.

Surgery against cancer

Sometimes cancer treatment includes surgeries that remove part of the lymphatic system


Radiation therapy uses controlled doses of high-energy radiation to destroy cancerous tissues, but they can also damage healthy tissues . If some of the cancer cells are in the lymphatic system, there is a risk that the system itself is damaged and can not function properly afterwards.

Some infections and parasites

Some infections can damage the tissue around the lymphatic system, causing a scar that prevents it from functioning properly.

Filariasis is another infectious cause of lymphedema. It is a parasitic disease caused by tiny worms that live in the lymphatic system and block it.

Circulatory system diseases

Diseases that affect blood flow, such as thrombosis or varicose veins , can cause lymphedema in some people. Damage to veins can cause blood to leak out and invade other tissues, denying the parts of the lymphatic system responsible for draining excess fluids


The obese people , especially if they have severe obesity have an increased risk of inflammation . The reason is not very clear, but it seems that excess adipose tissue affects the lymphatic system in some way, reducing its ability to circulate fluids.

In these cases, losing weight is an important part of the treatment, and just by starting losing a few kilos begins to notice an improvement in inflammation.


Unlike the circulatory system, in the lymphatic system there is no motor that produces the circulation of the liquid it contains, but rather it is produced by the movements of all the tissues that surround it. Movement and exercise help the drainage of the lymphatic system, because the muscular activity around the channels that form it helps to mobilize the fluid towards it.

Little movement causes the opposite effect: the fluid accumulates because it is not driven into the lymphatic system . This increases the risk in people who due to accidents or other diseases are limited mobility for a season.

Lymphedema treatment

The symptoms can be controlled by applying techniques that prevent the accumulation of fluids

There is no cure for lymphedema, but usually you can control the symptoms by applying techniques that prevent the accumulation of fluids and stimulate circulation through the lymphatic system.

The most common are the use of compression bandages , moving and exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and lifestyle and undergoing specialized massages.

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