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Let's explain the lymphatic system

My first reaction to being diagnosed with lymphoedema was 'lymph what?' Like many people I thought I knew about lymph nodes 'they are related to cancer, aren't they?

Who remembers as a child their mother checking for swollen glands around their neck or jaw line to see if the area were swollen usually when you had a sore throat?  This action would determine if a trip to the GP was imminent for antibiotics, or you were packed off to school because Mum thought you weren't ill.  How many of us would know this simple action was checking part of the lymphatic system? Did you know these glands are your cervical lymph nodes? These are located in the neck area.

I first learned about the lymphatic system when I was sixty years old and began to realise that there existed a disease known as lymphoedema. A network of lymph vessels connects clusters of lymph nodes located throughout the body that make up the lymphatic system. Our general health is affected by the quality of our lymphatic system.

From the diagram see how the lymphatic system is connected to every aspect of our bodies.

Diagram of the lymphatic system

Lymphoedema is caused by a failure of the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system is made up of lymphoid tissues known as lymph nodes and vessels this forms part of our immune system. 

There are an estimated 600 to 700 lymph nodes throughout our bodies.  

When working normally, the lymphatic system of vessels, like blood capillaries, collect fluid & particles, such as protein, fat hormones, bacteria & harmful cells. 


Removes waste products

Lymph fluid is colourless.

It acts as a one-way drainage system transporting 'lymph fluid' through a filtering system of nodes to destroy the harmful particles & returns fluid to the blood stream.

Protecting our body against infection

Contains white blood-cells called lymphocytes which help fight infection

Responsible for:

Maintenance of fluid balance & transport of fluid from tissue spaces to the circulation.

Nutrition of fluid balance from the gut & transport back to the circulation.

The role of the lymphatic system is to fight infection.

Immunity and defence by the removal of dying or mutant cells, transporting antigens & immune cells, & generating immune responses to infections.

Swollen lymph nodes are common and result from exposure to bacteria or viruses, such as that which causes the common cold.

In rare instances, swollen nodes may indicate a more serious condition, such as cancer or an immune disorder.

Diagram of the circulatory and lymphatic systems
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