What are the Causes of Lymphedema?

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  • Written By: K. Gierok
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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Lymphedema is a condition that is typified by high amounts of lymph fluid flowing into and remaining in the limbs. One of the most common causes of this condition is linked to hereditary disorders, such as Meige or Milroy disease. In other cases, lymphedema may be caused by infections or acute conditions and their respective forms of treatment. For example, surgery that removes lymph nodes is commonly to blame for the development of lymphedema. In addition, radiation therapy and certain prescription medications have been found to be linked to lymphedema. In cases where a specific medication is to blame, an alternative can be prescribed for those who experience lymphemdema symptoms, though this is not always the case.

One of the most common causes of lymphedema is inheritable disorders. Milroy disease is a common inheritable disorder that often is the blame for the development of lymphedema. In this condition, lymph nodes are malformed, and cannot adequately maintain lymph flow in the body. In contrast, Meige disease, another of the most common causes of lymphedema, features lymph nodes that are unable to control lymphatic flow. Often, lymphdema that is caused by hereditary conditions is the most successfully treated, due to its ease in early recognition and identification.


In some cases, radiation has been linked to the development of lymphedema. In addition, certain prescription medications, especially those that are commonly used in the treatment of breast cancer, have been found to be a primary cause of lymphedema. Those who start a new medication and experience the symptoms of lympedema should consult with their physician as soon as possible. In some cases, a medication that provides similar benefits without lymphedema-related side effects can be prescribed. In other cases, patients must simply wait for the medication to run its course before lymphedema treatment can begin.

Infections, acute conditions, and the manner in which they are treated are another of the most common causes of lymphedema. Surgeries, for example, are commonly linked to the development of lymphdema, especially those that either intentionally or unintentionally remove lymph nodes from the body. In addition, in some cases, cancerous or noncancerous tumors can lead to the development of lymphedema, due to the tumor's ability to slow or restrict the flow of lymph through the body. Sometimes, infections such as filariasis can also lead to lymphdema. Typically, once these primary conditions are recognized and treated, lymphedema symptoms decrease and lymph flow through the body returns to normal.


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