Overview on the Lymphatic System

The immune system is often mistaken as the same with the lymphatic system. These are actually two different systems in the body. Learn more about the lymphatic system and the role it plays to your immunity.

lymphoma lump on neck

You’re unlikely to think highly of your tonsils, lymph nodes, or even your spleen. However, did you know that these organs are a major part of the lymphatic system which plays a huge part in your immunity? Here is what there is to learn about this system and the common disorders that affect it.

Lymphatic System: A Brief Overview

The lymphatic system is responsible for the transport of fluids all over the body. It plays a major part in the immune system. It is comprised of the lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, and two ducts.

Lymphatic Vessels

These are smaller than veins and larger than capillaries. Like veins, these are found all through the body. Also, much like veins, lymphatic vessels contain valves that clot and flow toward the hearts. These vessels drain a fluid known as lymph from the tissues all over the body.

Lymph

This fluid goes through capillaries then into the spaces located in the cells. While most lymph is absorbed by the capillaries, the rest goes to the lymphatic vessels. Lymph is rich in nutrients, mineral, and proteins that offer nourishment to the tissues in the body. Also, it contains foreign particles like viruses and bacteria, cancer cells, and damaged cells.

Lymph Nodes

These act as collection hubs for lymph. It also filters cancer cells, foreign particles, and damaged cells from the fluid. These are engulfed and destroyed by white blood cells called macrophages and lymphocytes.

As a whole, the lymphatic system eliminates the damaged cells and protects it against infection.

What Are the Major Organs?

The lymphatic system is comprised of four major organs. These include the following.

1. Thymus

This is found in the thoracic cavity, below the neck. The thymus is comprised of two lymphoid tissue lobes which, in turn, have a medulla that is enclosed by a cortex. As for the cortex, this area is where immature lymphocytes head towards them to transform into T cells. The maturation is done in the medulla.

2. Spleen

It is found in the abdomen, specifically in the upper-left part. Unless it is swollen or enlarged, it can’t be palpable as it is tucked under the ribs. The spleen’s job is to filter blood by eliminating damaged and old red blood cells. It also spots bacteria and viruses and then prompts the discharge of lymphocytes.

3. Tonsils

These are lymphoid tissue that can be found in the nasal cavity and back of the throat. Also a part of one’s immune system, it fights against the spread of infections.

4. Appendix

It is attached to the large intestine. The appendix is a sack of lymphatic tissue. It can be found in the lower-right portion of the abdomen. Despite being made up of lymphatic tissue, the appendix has no function vital to the lymphatic system. It does, however, discharge mucus to the large intestine.

There are other lymphatic tissues that are analogous to the tonsils. These are found in part of the digestive tract called the gut-associated lymphoid tissue or GALT. It comes in the following varieties.

  • Lamina Propria Lymphocytes: It is found in the small intestine’s mucosa. This GALT type is comprised of B cells.
  • Peyer’s Patches: Like the lamina propria lymphocytes, these contain B cells. Even though they are mostly found in the ileum, these lymphatic tissue patches can also be found in the submucosa and mucosa of the small intestine.
  • Intraepithelial Lymphocytes: These lymphatic tissues are found in between tight junctions of the small intestine, particularly the cell’s epithelial layer.

Common Disorders Affecting the System

Immunologists are those who treat disorders and diseases that affect this system of the body. On the other hand, a lymphedema therapist specializes in the manual draining of this system. There are numerous disorders that affect the system. Some of them include the following.

Lymphadenopathy

This is the condition where the lymph nodes become enlarged. This is typically caused by inflammation or an infection. Bacteria in the lymph fluid triggers the lymph nodes to produce white blood cells that target and destroy them. This leads to the swelling. Swollen lymph nodes can be felt and seen in the groin, neck, or underarms.

Lymphoma

It is known as cancer affecting the lymph nodes. This disorder happens when there are uncontrollable growth and multiplication of lymphocytes.

Castleman Disease

This is an inflammatory disorder that leads to the enlargement of lymph nodes as well as the dysfunction of multiple organs. Even though it is not recognized as cancer, it is comparable to lymphoma. Like lymphoma, chemotherapy is a treatment. This disorder may involve multiple lymph nodes, multicentric; or one lymph node, unicentric.

Lymphangiomatosis

This is a disease that involves the formation of numerous lesions or cysts in the lymphatic vessels. Studies claim that this may be due to a genetic mutation.

Tonsil Stones

When debris is left on the tonsils, it triggers the release of white blood cells that attack the debris. This action, in turn, leads to a hard biofilm that looks like stones. A dentist may remove them from the tonsils.  

Instances that can hinder the function of the lymphatic system include the following.

  • Infection: This leads to the inflammation or swelling of the lymph nodes. Some lymph nodes can be infected as well which leads to a condition called lymphadenitis.
  • Obstruction: When there is an obstruction in the system, it leads to the accumulation of lymph or lymphedema. An obstruction may be caused by scar tissue due to damage to the lymph nodes or vessels. Damage may be a result of infection with threadworms, radiation therapy, or surgery.
  • Cancer: The flow of lymph may be interfered with due to tumors that block lymphatic ducts. Though rare, tumors may cultivate in the lymphatic system. This is then called lymphangiosarcoma.

In summary, the lymphatic system plays a huge role in filtering the blood and fighting the spread of cancer and infection. Lymph also carries vital nutrients and minerals vital to the nutrition of cells within the human body.

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