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Information for patients

THE LYMPHATIC SYSTEM AND HOW IT WORKS

MLD UK is the UK's professional council.  They have produced some mini guides on just a few of the conditions MLD can be used to treat - Please click on the links below to see the MLD UK mini guides for MLD for Costmetic Surgery, Detox, Breast Canceer and Pregnancy.

http://www.mlduk.org.uk/media/pdf/MLDcosmetic.pdf
http://www.mlduk.org.uk/media/pdf/MLDdetox.pdf
http://www.mlduk.org.uk/media/pdf/MLDbreastcancer.pdf
http://www.mlduk.org.uk/media/pdf/MLDpregnancy.pdf
 

What is Oedema/Lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema is swelling caused by a slow or disfunctioning Lymphatic System.

Primary Lymphoedema
is a condition where we are born with disfunctioning lymphatic vesselsThis can sometimes be apparent from birth or it can become apparent later on in life.

Secondary Lymphoedema is caused due to damage of the lymphatic vessels, whether that be from trauma, a result of surgery or when the lymph nodes are removed and/or irradiated as in the case with breast cancer.  It can also be caused through parasite infection.

Venous Oedema is caused when the heart or venous system (veins) become weakened or damaged and the blood is not able be pumped effectively back to the heart.  Blood contains water and protein molecules and these pass through the thin membranous walls of the blood vessels into the soft tissues causing swelling (usually in the lower legs). 

Post Operative Oedema - Inflammation is a normal response for our bodies to take.  We need to go through this 'swelling' process as this is also part of the 'healing' process.  However in some cases the swelling becomes excessive or chronic.  This then impairs the healing process, it reduces the patient's range of motion and inhibits their rehabilitation.

If left untreated the oedema can become progressively worse.  Changes can occur to the skin tissues, fibrosis and sclerosis can develop and the condition becomes harder to manage and control.

When our lymph system is functioning normally, we don't notice little cuts or scratches on our hands or feet because our immune system is able to function properly to effectively neutralise any harmful antigen.

But the same little cuts or scratches could pose a serious risk of infection to someone whose lymph vessels are unable to move the antigen to the lymph nodes where our immune response takes place.  The risk of developing Cellutitis is far greater and this in turn can then lead onto increased swelling and further development of the Lymphoedema.


Many people do not fully understand the Lymph System and do not realise the importance of it's actions.


The lymphatic system is a crucial part of our body funciton.  It has two main functions, one is to regulate, filter and remove excess fluid from our bodies and the other and also very important function, is our immune system.

Swelling, oedema, excess fluid, sometimes called "water retention" - all are caused when there is an inbalance between the fluid or water in the soft tissue spaces (interstitial) and the fluid or water that is being returned to the blood via the venous system.  This inbalance is actually due to protein molecules - the protein molecules pass through the blood vessel walls into the tissue spaces.  Usually the protein molecules are then pulled back into the blood vessels and the lymph vessels creating a balance known as Starling's equilibrium.  However, when the blood and lymph vessels are not functioning properly, an increased amount of protein molecules build up in the tissue spaces.  These protein molecules attract water molecules and this is how the swelling or oedema occurs. 

It is within our lymph nodes that the process to destroy foreign pathogens such as bacteria and viruses begins.  In each tiny lymph node, these possible infections are broken down by cells called lymphocytes and macrophages.

The pathogens are passed through a series of lymph nodes, which act as filters.  At each filtering stage they are gradually destoyed, until eventually all that is left is the waste product - the dead pathogen.  This is then excreted from our bodies through the natural process.

We have between 500 and 600 lymph nodes throughout our body.  They are all linked together by little chains of lymph angions or collectively known as lymphatics or lymph capillaries and lymph vessels.  The actual size of the lymph vessels and lymph nodes can vary -  Lymph nodes can often be felt just under the surface of the skin, they are sometimes described as small pea shaped lumps but often they can appear larger.

It is common in women around the age of 30 to develop small pea sized lumps around their breasts, especially to the lateral side and up into the armpit.  Although this is not an indication of cancer some women feel happier to speak to their doctor and arrange for a breast examination.  These lumps are often harmless but it is always advisable to consult your GP.  It can be worrying and in my experience breast care nurses can be very helpful and very reassuring, so if you do have this worry or know anyone who is concerned about any breast lump, do not feel embarrassed to ask for help and advice.

What else does the lymph system do?

Lots! - it has several other functions. 

We hear about 'good fats' and 'essental fatty acids' all the time. Found in oily fish, advocado, flax seed oil and in many dietry supplements, these 'good fats' are needed in our diets to help rebuild our cells - they give us good skin, shiny hair, strong nails, increased memory and help us to heal ourselves. 

Do you know how these 'good fats' travel around our body? You guessed it, through our lymph system!

Lymphatic drainage can reduce the appearance of cellulite.  MLD is not a miracle cure for dieting, but when used in conjunction with a healthy eating plan and regular exercise it can help.

Fat cells bind together with water molecules and with regular MLD treatments, the lymph removes this excess water from the tissues thus reducing the appearance of the cellulite.

One lady patient had a course of MLD after an abdominoplasty procedure (tummy tuck) and she was thrilled by the side effects... slimmer, smoother thighs! 

 
 
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