Lymphedema is a term used to describe the accumulation of (protein-rich) lymphatic fluid in the interstitial tissue that causes swelling most often in the arms and legs, and occasionally in other parts of the body. Anything that prevents the normal return of lymph to the blood, such as a blockage of the lymphatic system or the removal of parts of lymphatic system during surgery will cause lymphedema.
What is the lymphatic fluid?
The lymphatic fluid, also known as lymph, is a clear, watery fluid that contains immune cells, proteins and other types of cells. The lymphatic fluid is distributed throughout the body via the lymphatic system.
What is the lymphatic system? What does is do?
The lymphatic system is composed of 1) lymphatic vessels 2) lymph 3) lymphoid organs and tissues
The function of the lymphatic system includes:
return excess tissue fluid to the blood stream
return leaked proteins to the blood
carry absorbed fat from the intestine to the blood
Types of Lymphedema
Primary Lymphedema (Idiopathic Lymphedema)
There are three types of primary lymphedema which are categorized based upon the age of onset. Congenital lymphedema also known as Milroy's disease is present at birth or occurs early in infancy Lymphedema praecox occurs at any time from puberty until the end of the third decade Lymphedema tarda occurs after the age of 30.
Secondary Lymphedema is usually due to an obstruction in the lymphatic system from a number of causes:
Infection Parasites Post-surgery (example: masectomy) Cancer Lymphatic destruction from therapeutic radiation Parasites (example: elephantiasis)