The lymph system (also known as the lymphatic system) is a network comprising of lymph vessels, lymph ducts, lymph nodes and organs. It is a vital part of the body’s circulatory system and responsible for the production and transportation of lymph to the bloodstream. The lymph system also includes the spleen, adenoids, tonsils and thymus.
The Lymph system can be divided into two parts; the lymphoid tissue and the conducting system.
The lymphoid tissue is made up of white blood cells and lymphocytes which are primary agents in the body’s immune system. Parts of the lymphoid tissue may be densely filled with lymphocytes. These regions are referred to as lymphoid follicles. Other parts of the lymph tissue may be made up of structurally organized lymph nodes.
The conducting system is responsible for the transportation of lymph fluid. It is made up lymph vessels, lymph capillaries and the left and right thoracic ducts.
As a network, the lymph system performs a number of functions
- It handles the absorption and transportation of fatty acids from the digestive system. This is transported as chyle and fats.
- The lymph system transports APCs (antigen presenting cells) to the lymph nodes.
- The lymph system handles the removal of interstitial fluid from tissues.
- Lymph vessels in the lymph system are responsible for the absorption of fat within the gastrointestinal tract.
- The lymph system is responsible for the transportation of white blood cells from the lymph nodes into the bones and back.
- The lymph system serves as the first line of defense for the body. It plays a crucial role in the body’s immune system, filtering the lymph fluid for bad foreign matter. The lymph network protects the body by signaling the release of lymphatics to fight infections upon the detection of microorganisms.
Lymph is a thin coagulable clear-to-white fluid that consists of Proteins, fat and white blood cells.
Lymph nodes are small bean shapedstructure that cannot be felt easily or seen. They occur in clusters in different parts of the body such as the chest, abdomen, neck, groin and armpit. Lymph nodes play an important function. They are responsible for the production of the immune cells used by the body to fight infection. The amount of white blood cells produced by the lymph nodes is increased during bacterial infections. The lymph fluid is also filtered by the lymph nodes, removing foreign materials such as cancer cells or bacteria.
Diseases of the Lymph System
The lymph system monitor’s the body’s fluid level and protects it from infection. Like most organs and networks in the body, the lymph system is prone to diseases. Some of these include
- Lymphangiomatosis: Lymphagiomatosis is a disease that affects lymphatic vessels causing the formation of multiple lesions or cyst.
- Lymphedema: This is the swelling (usually in the limbs) caused by an accumulation of lymph fluid in the affected region. This is usually because a part of the lymph system has been damaged or malfunctioned in some way. Lymphedema may also affect other areas of the body some of which include the face, abdomen and neck.
- Lymphangiosarcoma and lymphangioma: Both are tumors which can affect the lymph system. However, lymphangioma is a benign tumor while Lymphangiosarcoma is a malignant tumor.
- Elephantiasis: Elephantiasis is a thickening of the skin and hypertrophy of different body parts as a result of infected lymphatic vessels. Elephantiasis is caused by a parasite and commonly affects the genital and limbs.
- Lymphoma: Lymphoma is a term used to describe different types of cancer that originate from the lymph nodes or lymph tissues within the lymph system. Lymphoma can be divided into two different categories non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphoma.
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