The lymphatic system is composed of multiple vessels, glands and lymph nodes whose main aim is to remove any excess fluid in the bloodstream such as proteins and to produce white blood cells which fight foreign viruses or bacteria, maintaining a healthy balance throughout the body.
There are two categories of causes of Lymphoedema: primary and secondary.
Primary Lymphoedema refers to those who have a genetic disposition to the disorder inherited from previous family members.
Secondary Lymphoedema is when someone experiences the condition as a result of the body’s natural response to another factor such as infection, illness or surgery.
The lymphatic system can interact with hormones throughout the body, and functions to help maintain a healthy balance of these hormones. When our hormone levels change, often due to menstrual cycles, menopause, or changes in medication; the lymphatic system can become overwhelmed and a buildup of fluid can occur.
Alternatively, another cause of Lymphoedema may be the removal of lymph nodes through surgery. Those who have undergone surgery as part of their cancer treatment are at higher risk of developing Lymphoedema if the removal of lymph nodes is needed. Lymph nodes are all over the body and are used to filter and drain lymphatic fluid. When lymph nodes are removed, the lymph fluid cannot be filtered or drained as effectively in turn leading to fluid build-up and the development of swelling. Redirecting lymph fluid can increase lymphatic flow and reduce further risk of Lymphoedema in the body.
Lymphoedema may not appear immediately after surgery; it can be several months before symptoms start to present. Nevertheless, swelling is a normal reaction to an operation, and it usually subsides within a few weeks.