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Can obesity cause lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a common condition. In fact, in the United States alone, over 200,000 cases of lymphedema are reported each year.

A condition caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system, it is usually associated with cancer treatments specifically those that involve removal of the lymph nodes. However, there are cases of lymphedema that are attributed to obesity.

Lymphedema and Obesity

A person is classified as obese if his/her body mass index (BMI) equates to 30 or above. Being obese is a major risk factor in several health conditions including lymphedema.

Several studies have shown that being obese increases one’s risk of secondary lymphedema following damage to the lymphatic vessels. As early as 1957, researchers have documented how added weight can increase one’s chance of developing lymphedema following breast cancer treatment.

The link between lymphedema and obesity isn’t just seen among those who underwent cancer treatments; researchers have found out that there is an increased risk of lymphedema among obese individuals even without a history of surgery or lymphatic injury.

The exact mechanism on how obesity can lead to lymphedema is still unclear among researchers. It could be that the enlarging limb of an obese individual results to an increased in the production of the lymph, which can overwhelm the lymphatic system. It can also be that the adipose tissues compress the lymphatics, leading to injury to the lymphatic system.

Researchers discovered that lymphedema and obesity have a reciprocal relationship. The impaired lymphatic function can lead to adipose deposition which can eventually lead to obesity. Obesity, on the other hand, can cause lymphatic injury and increases one’s risk of lymphedema following cancer treatment.

Managing Lymphedema and Obesity

There is still no cure for lymphedema but it can be managed. Manual lymphatic drainage, compression therapy, and routine skincare can help in reducing the volume of accumulated fluid in affected extremities.

As with obesity, making the right food choices and increasing the physical activity can make a difference in reducing one’s weight.

Image: Emilio Labrador via Flickr

Posted by: on 8/14/2017
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