Diseases of Lymphatic System

The malfunctioning or damage to any part of the lymph circulation mechanism, usually, results in severe and acute lymphatic system diseases. Nevertheless, proper care of your health and timely diagnosis of the abnormality can save you from a lot of future complexities. Some of the commonly occurring disorders include lymphatic filariasis, elephantiasis, lymphangiosarcoma, lymphangiomatosis, castleman's disease, Hodgkin's lymphoma, lymphedema, lymphoid leukemias & lymphomas, lymphangioleiomyomatosis, and so on. Here follows brief descriptions of such disorders with symptoms and treatment measures:

Lymphatic Filariasis

Also spelled as philariasis, this parasitic disease derives its name from the super family of the nematodes (filarioidae or filariae) which are its causative agents. The black flies, mosquitoes and other blood-feeding arthropods serve as carriers of the disease and transmit it from one individual to another. Over one hundred and twenty million (120,000,000) individuals worldwide show the symptoms of the disease, such as, the thickening of the skin and underlying tissues. It is diagnosed with the help of Finger Prick Test, while the treatment may involve the medications, like albendazole.


Caused by the microscopic, thread-like parasitic worms, elephantiasis affects different organs of the body, especially the legs and male genitals. As the very name suggests, it is characterized by the thickening, and sometimes extreme swelling, of the skin and underlying tissues. Owing to the awareness campaigns, launched internationally, nearly 7 million children have been saved from the possible attack of the disease, and in about 10 million individuals, its progress has been stopped. Albendazole is used in combination with either ivermectin or diethylcarbamazine for the treatment of this infectious disorder transmitted by the mosquito bites.


Occurring in the long standing cases of primary or secondary lymphedema, it is a rare disorder that is characterized by the growth of a malignant tumor. However, the initial signs involve the appearance of a purplish discoloration or a bruise mark, and gradually progresses to an ulcer with crusting and, finally, results in extensive necrosis. The treatment usually depends on the type and severity of the malignancy. In case of metastasis, chemotherapy may be administered, and in some other cases, amputation of the affected limb is considered to be the most successful therapy.


The congenital errors of the lymphatic development occurring before the 20th week of gestation lead to this lymphatic malformation. It is marked by the formation of cysts which appear when the abnormally interconnected and dilated thin-walled vessels increase both in size as well as number. Mostly involving bones, it may also affect lungs and other organs or organs systems of your body. As the disorder is very likely to attack more than one organ systems, it is usually termed as a multi-system disease. The symptoms start appearing in the advanced stages of the disease. Diagnosis can be carried out with plain X-rays which may reveal the presence of lytic lesions in bones and interstitial infiltrates in the lungs. Depending on the severity of the condition, different treatment approaches are recommended including medications and surgical interventions.

Castleman's Disease

This rare disorder of the lymphatic system may affect either a single lymph node or spread systematically to other nodes as well. The former condition is termed as unicentric while, in the latter case, it is referred to as multicentric. To make distinction between the castleman’s disease and reactive lymph node hyperplasia, the former is also named as angiofollicular lymph node hyperplasia. The unicentric form of the disorder can often be cured with surgical resection, but for multicentric condition there is no standard therapy.

Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Commonly known as Hodgkin's disease, it is characterized by the painless, gradual swelling of the lymph nodes, persistent fatigue, and weight loss. In most of the cases, this rare medical condition affects lymphatic tissues in the lymph nodes and spleen. It also shows the characteristics of cancer as the infected node shows rapid and abnormal increase in size. If such a cancerous condition remains unchecked, the malignancy will progress from the nodes and inflict other organs as well, such as, liver, lungs and bone marrow. The successful treatment is carried out either through the process of 'staging', or it may involve the application of chemotherapy, radiations and autologous bone marrow transplantation.


Alternatively spelled as ‘lymphoedema’, this condition is caused by the compromised lymphatic system. Lymphatic Obstruction (another name of the disease) occurs due to the localized fluid retention and results in serious tissue swelling. That is why the patients are said to be at an immediate risk of developing an infection. Some of the common symptoms include severe fatigue, swollen limbs & other body areas, discoloration of the skin, and even deformity. Depending upon the severity of the edema and degree of fibrosis of the affected limb, the treatment measures vary. The most common treatments recommended by certified lymphedema therapists include compression bandaging, compression garments or manual compression lymphatic massage. Any of these treatments can be adopted either individually or in combination with the other.

Lymphoid Leukemia

Also known as lymphocytic leukemia, it is a type of leukemia which specifically affects the circulating lymphocyte cells. Here it is necessary to make distinction between lymphoma and lymphoid leukemia, where the former refers to the formation of the solid mass of the same type of cells. In the early stages, the symptoms usually do not appear, but later on, the patient has to suffer from fatigue, fever, night sweats, weight loss, frequent infection and enlarged but painless lymph nodes. Treatment is usually not necessary in the early stages, but the intermediate and advanced stages may require cure through chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy and bone marrow stem cell transplant.

Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM)

This rare lung disease leads to the proliferation of the disorderly smooth muscle cells that may spread to the entire lung region. As the small airways get obstructed, the lymphatics, bronchioles, alveolar septa and perivascular spaces get badly disturbed. Usually affecting the females of the child bearing age, the LAM occurs in sporadic form, and its chances increase if the patient is already suffering from tuberous sclerosis. The prominent symptoms are: cough, shortness of breath, recurrent pneumothorax and hemoptysis. The therapists have to choose from a number of available treatment measures, for example, anti-estrogen therapy, sirolimus and lung transplantation.

About the Author

Posted by: M. Isaac / Senior writer

A graduate in biological sciences and a PhD scholar (NCBA&E University, Lahore), M. Isaac combines his vast experience with a keen and critical eye to create practical and inherently engaging content on the human body. His background as a researcher and instructor at a secondary school enables him to best understand the needs of the beginner level learners and the amateur readers and educate them about how their body works, and how they can adopt a healthier lifestyle.

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