Lymphatic fluid buildup can happen as a result of blockage in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a vital system in the body comprised of the lymph nodes and vessels. Its job is to drain the fluids coming from the different tissues of the body. These fluids carry toxins and other waste products from the body. Lymphatic blockage may result from a genetic disorder (primary lymphedema) or as a complication of cancer treatment (secondary lymphedema).

What Happens When There is Lymphatic Fluid Buildup

Secondary lymphedema is the more common form of lymphedema. Women who undergo mastectomy with removal of the lymph nodes are at higher risk of developing secondary lymphedema. The removal of the lymph tissues and lymph nodes causes lymphatic obstruction. This obstruction leads to lymphatic fluid building which is manifested through the swelling of the affected site.

When it is not managed immediately, the swelling can significantly impact one’s range of motion. It can also cause pain and feeling of “heaviness” on the affected site. In some cases, the swelling may also come with skin infection like lymphangitis. It’s the bacterial infection of the lymph nodes characterized by blotchy patch or red rash on the affected site.  

Diagnosing and Managing the Lymphatic Fluid Buildup

Lymphedema is only confirmed after the doctor performs a thorough physical exam and ask about one’s health history. There are cases on which the doctor may order imaging tests like lymphangiogram. It’s a form of X-ray scan that involves the use of contrast dye to visualize better the lymph nodes and vessels.

The treatment plan for lymphedema aims at reducing the lymphatic fluid buildup in order to reduce the swelling and improve one’s range of motion.

There are different ways of managing lymphedema; one is through compression.


The use of compression garments encourages the flow of lymphatic fluid to move towards areas where there is normal flow of the lymphatic fluid. There are different compression garments available out there. There are compression socks, stockings, or sleeves that can be worn over the swollen limb.  

Exercise is another way of improving the lymphatic fluid buildup. Simple exercises like walking, knee bends, and yoga can help prevent the lymphatic fluid from pooling into the arms or legs.

Manual Lymph Drainage

If compression therapy or exercise doesn’t work, one can look into manual lymph drainage. Performed by a qualified professional, manual lymph drainage is a form of massage therapy that makes use of certain techniques in order to boost the proper drainage of the lymphatic fluid.

Having lymphatic fluid buildup can greatly affect one’s quality of life. Whether you have it as a result of a disorder or surgery, it’s best to seek treatment for it the soonest time possible.

Image: Katie Tegtmeyer

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