Lymphatic Obstruction – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment
What is lymphatic obstruction?
Lymphatic obstruction is a blockage of the lymphatic circulatory system. The lymphatic system consists of lymph nodes and vessels, which drain fluids from tissues throughout the body. The lymphatic system also facilitates immune cells to travel where they are needed. Lymphatic obstruction results in swelling in tissues due to the accumulation of fluid. This is called lymphedema.
What causes a lymphatic obstruction?
The most common cause of lymphatic obstruction is the removal of lymph tissue during a surgery. Mastectomy, which involves removal of the breast and underarm lymph tissue from breast cancer is another main cause. This results in lymphedema of the arm, as the lymphatic drainage of the arm passes through the armpit. Enlargement of the lymph nodes is another common cause.
The following are the other causes of lymphatic obstruction:
- Infections with parasites like filariasis
- Skin infections like cellulitis
- Radiation therapy
Congenital lymphedema is caused due to genetics and hereditary reasons. This is called primary lymphedema, which is rare.
What are the symptoms of lymphatic obstruction?
Chronic swelling, usually of the arm or leg, is the main symptom of lymphatic obstruction.
How is lymphatic obstruction diagnosed?
The doctor will perform a physical exam and review your symptoms and medical history.
The doctor may order the following tests:
- CT or MRI scan
- Lymphangiography and lymphoscintigraphy (to check the lymph nodes and lymph drainage)
How is lymphatic obstruction treated?
Treatment of lymphatic obstruction (lymphedema) includes:
- Compression: Compression of the affected area or using a pneumatic compression pump may help lymph fluid to flow back up. Your doctor and physical therapist will advise which compression methods are suitable.
- Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD): Manual lymph drainage involves the technique of light massage therapy. This technique involves moving the skin in certain directions based on the structure of the lymphatic system. This helps the lymph fluid drain through the proper channels.
- Physical Therapy & Exercises: Light exercise and limb movement programs to help lymphatic fluid drainage and provide relief.
- Skin Care: Taking proper skin care to prevent injuries, infection, and skin breakdown.
- Surgery: Sometimes, surgery is used to remove excess tissue to reduce swelling. This is usually done by an experienced surgeon. Physical therapy after surgery is needed to reduce lymphedema.
Generally, one of the following surgical procedures is used:
- Removal of abnormal lymphatic tissue
- Transplanting normal lymphatic tissues in the areas with abnormal lymphatic drainage
- A surgical procedure using vein grafts is done to bypass abnormal lymph tissue.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.