The lymphatic system is an essential, but often overlooked, internal bodily function that works ceaselessly and imperceptibly to keep the body healthy. It’s often only when something goes wrong with the lymphatic system that we become aware of the important part it plays in the functioning of our body.
What is the lymphatic system?
The lymphatic system is a filter network of tiny tubes called lymph vessels or lymphatics. Lymphatics run in close connection with the circulatory system and can be found throughout the body, apart from the central nervous system. Its main components are the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, the thymus gland, tonsils and appendix.
Why is it important?
The lymphatic system is important for the body as it plays a vital part in combating diseases, viruses and bacteria as well as maintaining the body’s delicate fluid balance. Substances such as water and proteins continuously leak out of blood capillaries and into the surrounding tissues, which the lymphatic system must drain. If this doesn’t happen, fluid can accumulate in the tissues and cause the area to swell. This is called lymphedema and is most likely to occur on the arms or legs, however, some people may experience swelling on the trunk or face. Other problems such as infections, blockages or cancer may also be present.
How does it function?
The overall function of the lymphatic system is to drain fluid from the tissues and back to the blood stream while clearing infections and maintaining body fluid balance. Each component of the lymphatic system has an important role to play.
The lymph vessels carry lymph, which is a clear fluid containing large amounts of white blood cells (lymphocites) throughout the body. Lymphocites are essential for producing antibodies to fight infection. Lymph is then filtered by the lymph nodes where white blood cells fight harmful bacteria or viruses. Lymph nodes can be found under the arms, in the neck, groin, pelvis, abdomen and chest.
The thymus helps produce white blood cells, while the spleen filters out damaged red blood cells. The bone marrow produces new red blood cells to replace those which are damaged and filtered out by the spleen. The white blood cells in the spleen also serve to attack and fight signs of infection.
The tonsils and adenoids help defend the digestive system against bacteria and viruses, while the appendix, which is also rich in lymphocites, can further assist in the fight against bacteria.
The lymphatic system is made up from a complex network of tiny vessels and nodes which together play an important part in fighting infections and maintaining the body’s fluid balance. If something goes wrong to upset its functioning, problems such as swollen limbs and a greater susceptibility to succumbing to viruses and bacteria are more likely to occur. Maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle is the best way to keep the lymphatic system in good working order.