Question 5 Dear Jane: Lymphoedema - Is there a link to inflammation?

Jane Wigg RGN, MSc, Lymphoedema Clinical Expert, Answers L-W-O Community Member Questions


"Inflammation is the key to the many problems with our health and it is a trigger and cause of Lymphoedema and many other chronic illnesses.

There has been a massive growth  and development in this field of research over recent years but there is still a lot of understanding to come.

The technical reasons of how and why inflammation occurs is quite complex at a cellular level, so I’ll keep is simple and give it a go!

Our whole body is made up of trillions of cells, every single part of us.

There are many types of cells and varieties within them, with some of the main ones being, endothelial cells (mainly found on inside of blood vessels, muscle cells found on outside of blood vessel’s and lymphatics, nerve cells which tell the body what happening regarding the outside world and keep us safe from harm, and connective tissue cells,  such as fibroblasts and macrophages which from structure of the body  and contain collagen and fight infection. There are many other varying different cells, that have different uses.

Cells are individual mini factories, all working to do their job. Inside the cell, we have a nucleus (which controls and regulates the activity of the cell) and a mitochondria - the powerhouse of the cell. The outside of the cell has a cytoskeleton which maintains the structure of the cell, but also allows for messages to be taken in and out of the cell. It is the cells connection to the outside world, telling the inside what it needs to do. 

Cells that are usually happy going about their daily job of protecting our body, producing energy, making us aware of danger and fighting infection etc, but when the body is under stress, it can get mixed signals and start to over produce cells or message it to change into something else. 

Often this is what happens in Lymphoedema. For example ,a fibroblast could release more collagen from it, and as you know collagen, like gelatine, attracts water, so the cell will take in more water (swelling) as the bodies cells try to correct it and say "hey there is harm over here’ or ‘we need to stop/sort this’ and they produce more cells eg fibroblast/adipocytes to help resolve the issue, which in fact makes the problem worse. 

Day by day, the cell signalling continues and the cells attract more water, or change the cells, so more fatty tissue is made, or produce more collagen and the tissue builds and gets thicker. Now your Lymphoedema is worse.

It’s difficult to stop, because you need to change the cell signalling, but this can be achieved with the right constant pressure e.g. compression, or by removing the fluid before it attracts more water, such as massage. At a cellular level, compression helps reduce the cell signalling by supporting the message from tissue to the cytoskeleton of the cells. There’s a bit more to it that this, but it gives an idea, So ‘Yes’ inflammation plays a major role in the commencement and continuing of Lymphoedema.


Lets take a closer look..


See you next month.

Jane Wigg


You can subscribe for free and get our monthly newsmagazines directly into your inbox or you can check back on a monthly basis here to see NewsMagazines and the LWO Questions answered