The lymphatic system in the human body consists of lymph vessels, lymph nodes and lymph. Often considered as the second circulatory system of the body, the lymphatic system circulates lymph around the body through the lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes. Lymph basically contains white blood cells that defend the body against germs and infections. The main function of the lymphatic system in the human body is to maintain the fluid and protein balance. As blood travels through the arteries and veins, a considerable amount of the fluid filtered by the capillaries, along with vital proteins, gets trapped in the tissues of the body. This loss of fluid can rapidly become life threatening if the lymphatic system does not collect this fluid and return it to the circulatory system.
Diseases of the lymphatic system
The lymphatic system like any other human body system is susceptible to a variety of diseases and disorders. Some of the most common ones are discussed below.
Of the many lymphatic system diseases, one of the most prevalent lymphatic disorders is lymphatic insufficiency or lymphedema. This disease occurs as a result of an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the interstitial tissue resulting in swelling of the arms, legs and other parts of the body. The severity of this disorder varies from extremely mild complications to disfiguring, painful and cellulite infections deep in the skin. The two types of lymphedema:
- Primary lymphedema is an inherited condition that occurs due to impaired or missing lymphatic vessels. It can be exhibited at birth and develop with the onset of puberty.
- Secondary lymphedema is acquired regional lymphatic insufficiency, which can occur as a result of any trauma, infection or surgery that disrupts the lymphatic vessels or lymph nodes.
Filariasis is also a lymphatic system disease. It occurs from a parasitic-caused infection causing lymphatic insufficiency. In some cases, this lymphatic system disease can predispose elephantiasis, thickening of the skin and underlying tissues especially in the legs, male genitals and female breasts.
Lymphoma is a medical term used to describe a group of cancers that originate in the lymphatic system. It usually begins with malignant transformation of the lymphocytes in organs like the stomach or intestines. Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma are the two major categories of this disease.