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What Is Lymphangiography?

The lymphatic system, shown in green.
Contrasting dyes and x-ray imaging are used during a lymphangiography.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 August 2014
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Lymphangiography is a type of medical imaging study which is used to visualize the lymphatic system, the network of vessels and nodes which moves lymph throughout the body. This procedure is done in a hospital or clinical setting and is supervised by a radiologist or medical technician. The purpose of the lymphangiography is to gather information which can be used diagnostically to learn more about why a patient is experiencing specific symptoms and to potentially rule out certain medical issues.

Patients are often sedated for this procedure because it can be time consuming and uncomfortable. The patient will be awake, but relaxed as a result of the sedative, which will make the lymphangiography more pleasant. The lymphangiography starts with injecting a dye into the feet or hands. This dye will flow into the lymphatic system and become visible, allowing a doctor, nurse, or technician to insert a catheter into one of the vessels which carries lymph.

The catheter is used to introduce a contrast dye, also known as a contrast agent. Contrast dyes are radiopaque, which means that they will show up on X-ray images. The movement of the contrast dye is followed with the assistance of a fluoroscope, which generates a moving X-ray image of the body. Once it has disseminated throughout the lymphatic system or area of interest, sets of X-rays can be taken. More X-rays may be taken on the following day.

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After the procedure, the patient may feel slightly sore, especially behind the knees. Commonly body fluids like urine are also stained with the dye used at the start of the procedure to locate the lymph vessels, and this will resolve in several days once the body has expressed all of the dye. The results of the lymphangiography may be read immediately or interpreted at a different time and discussed with the patient later.

One reason for a doctor to order a lymphangiography is concerns about blockages in the lymphatic system. If a patient has a swollen leg or arm which is believed to be the result of a backup of lymph, for example, a lymphangiography can be used to find the blockage so that it can be addressed. This type of medical imaging can also be used to check for signs of cancer, although it is possible to get a false negative on a lymphangiography, so a clear result does not necessarily mean that the patient does not have cancer.

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