What Does the Lymphatic System Do?
The lymphatic system is part of the immune system and consists of various vessels, tissues, and organs. It has multiple functions, including helping to protect the body from disease-causing viruses, bacteria, etc., removing cellular waste, managing body fluid levels, and more.
Components of the Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system uses several components to perform its monitoring, fluid-management, and disease-prevention functions:
- Lymph. Also called lymphatic fluid, this material drains from cells, collects in the lymphatic system, and is moved throughout the body. It contains several substances, including proteins, fats, minerals, damaged cells, foreign particles (viruses, bacteria, etc.), and white blood cells.
- Lymphatic vessels. These tiny tubes are similar to veins. They run throughout the body and carry lymph to where it’s needed.
- Lymph nodes. These small, bean-shaped glands found throughout the body filter lymph as it moves through them. They also make and store different types of immune system cells. You may be familiar with your doctor feeling for swollen lymph nodes in your neck and other areas when you’re sick.
- Collecting ducts. These structures collect lymph before returning it to your bloodstream through the subclavian vein. In doing so, they help maintain normal blood pressure and prevent edema, which is excess fluid buildup in tissues.
- Spleen. The largest lymphatic organ, the spleen sits above your stomach on the left side of your body. It produces infection-fighting white blood cells as well as filters and stores blood.
- Appendix. The appendix has lymphatic tissue that captures and destroys harmful bacteria before it breaches the intestinal wall. Researchers also think the appendix stores helpful bacteria that the body can use to replenish the digestive tract as needed.
- Bone marrow. Found in the center of specific bones, bone marrow makes red and white blood cells and platelets.
- Thymus. The thymus is located under your breastbone. It supports a specific type of white blood cell that attacks foreign organisms.
- Adenoid and tonsils. These organs are the body’s first defenses against pathogens in air and food, which they trap.
- Peyer’s patches. Found in the small intestine, these areas of lymphatic tissue destroy harmful bacteria there.
What Conditions Affect the Lymphatic System?
Various medical conditions can affect the lymphatic system and its components. Some of the more common issues include:
- Swollen lymph nodes. Conditions like infections (strep throat, mononucleosis, infected wounds, etc.) and cancer can cause enlargement in the lymph nodes.
- Lymphedema. This condition is when fluid accumulates in the lymphatic system, often due to blockage from scar tissue. It’s commonly seen in the legs and arms. Lymphedema increases the risk of life-threatening infections.
- Lymphoma and other cancers of the lymphatic system. Cancer of the lymph nodes is called lymphoma. There are multiple types, including Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Tonsillitis. This is an infection of the tonsils.
Several less common conditions can also affect the lymph system. They include problems like lymphangitis (inflammation of the lymph vessels), intestinal lymphangiectasia (loss of lymph tissue in the small intestine), lymphatic filariasis (a parasitic infection), and others.
How to Support Your Lymphatic System
To help your lymphatic system do its work, you should avoid exposure to toxic chemicals like those in some cleaning products and pesticides. Those substances can accumulate in the body and interfere with the lymphatic system’s ability to filter waste.
You should also stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water every day. (Consuming 64 ounces is a good goal.) Proper hydration helps ensure that lymph can move around your body easily. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly also support proper lymphatic system function.
See Your Baptist Health Physician for Lymphatic System Problems
If you’re not feeling well and notice problems like swollen lymph nodes or edema, your Baptist Health doctor can perform an exam, make a diagnosis, and prescribe treatment. If you don’t yet have a doctor, you can find one near you with our online provider directory.