The Lymphatic System: What it is and How it Works

The Lymphatic System: What it is and How it Works

The Lymphatic System

As an overview, different systems make up your body with diverse functions. One of these systems is the Lymphatic System. The Lymphatic System is a network of organs and tissues. It functions to help your body remove wastes, toxins, and other unwanted present substances. The Lymphatic System works mainly to send lymph throughout your body.

As a bodily system, the Lymphatic system chiefly comprises lymphatic vessels. These vessels are identical to the capillaries and veins found in your circulatory system. These lymphatic vessels are connected to your lymph nodes, where the lymph is then filtered. Your adenoids, tonsils, thymus, and spleen form part of your Lymphatic System.

This article helps you explore everything you need to know about the Lymphatic System and what you can do to keep it healthy.

What Is The Lymphatic System?

Photo from Science ABC

The human body is composed of hundreds of lymph nodes. These lymph nodes are found deep-seated in your body, or either on its surface. They can be found in areas around your heart, lungs, under your arm, or groin. It can be found from your head to the area of your knee.


According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the spleen is considered as the largest lymphatic organ in your body. It is located just above your kidney, and on the left side of your body. The spleen functions as a filter to the blood. It controls the storage of blood in your body to help fight off infections.

The moment the spleen identifies possible harmful microorganisms found in the blood, together with the lymph nodes, they generate lymphocytes as white blood cells to defend your body against intruders. These lymphocytes then yield antibodies to kill off the microorganisms that attack your body and stop the spread of infections. Losing a spleen is not deadly. However, people who lose their spleen to certain conditions are at higher risk of acquiring infections.


According to the Merck Manual, the thymus is a small organ that keeps immature lymphocytes, known as specialized white blood cells. The thymus functions to prepare these lymphocytes to operate as active T cells. Once they become active T cells, these lymphocytes help kill cancerous and other infected cells.


The tonsils are considered as vast clusters of lymphatic cells. They are found in the pharynx and are considered as your body’s frontliners in defending your immune system. As such, they occasionally become infected and are among the most frequent operations performed up to today.


According to the National Lymphedema Network, the word “lymph” originates from a Latin root word lympha, meaning “connected to water”. The plasma, on the other hand, functions to deliver nutrients and remove debris from the body. It leaves once it has done the same. Much of this fluid then goes back to the venous circulation through the tiny blood vessels known as venues that resume working as venous blood. The remaining fluid is then transformed as lymph, which only flows in a single direction– upward and towards the neck.

How Does The Lymphatic System Work?

The Lymphatic System works as a drainage system for your body. It works nonstop to clean and dispose of waste from your other bodily systems. Having a healthy lymphatic system not only does this but also contributes to your other bodily functions. The Lymphatic System also:

Empties fluid back into the bloodstream.

The lymphatic system works primarily to gather fluid surplus, particularly the lymph fluid that surrounds your body’s tissues and organs and then returns it to the bloodstream. If the lymphatic system is not able to do this, the lymph fluid will then accumulate in your body and may result in swelling.

Filters the blood.

The spleen functions to filter blood, remove old red blood cells, and replace them with new red blood cells made in the bone marrow.

Purifies lymph.

As the lymph makes a pass through the nodes, the white blood cells function to attack any bacteria found in the lymph. If a cancer cell splits from a tumor, it can stick to a nearby lymph node. This phenomenon becomes the reason why doctors always check the lymph nodes first to check the extent of cancer spread.

Removes bodily impurities.

The lymphatic system also assists in the removal of toxins and other impurities in your body, like carbon dioxide, other byproducts of cellular feeding on oxygen, minerals, nutrients, and sodium. The lymphatic system aids to help rid of these impurities and dispose of them through bowel movements, sweat, urine, and breath.

Fights off infection.

The lymphatic system functions as your body’s defense against sickness-causing bacteria, germs, viruses, and fungi. This system builds immunity by making those specialized white blood cells called lymphocytes that produce antibodies that defend the body from diseases.

Is the Lymphatic System Important?

Just like all the other systems found in your body, the lymphatic system is vital as it works closely together with the circulatory system. Both the lymphatic and circulatory systems help eliminate toxins and other waste substances from your body. Different organs, lymph nodes, lymphatic ducts all compose the lymphatic system, which transports the lymph fluid.

To reiterate, the primary organs of the lymphatic system include the lymph, lymph nodes, lymph vessels, spleen, and thymus gland.

LYMPH: Purified Form of Blood Plasma

The lymph is considered as the purified form of blood plasma. Blood plasma, on the other hand, is the watery part of the blood. It carries the blood cells through the circulatory system. The lymph, as the filtered blood plasma permeates through the veins and seizes cellular waste, fats, proteins, glucose, cancer cells, dead cells, and white blood cells. The lymph then moves to fill the interstitial spaces between bones, muscles, and other empty spaces found in the body and are then collected in the lymph vessels.

Smaller lymph vessels connect to form large lymph vessels. However, because of small centralized organs or pumping mechanisms, the lymph vessels rely on a few muscle contractions and other movements to push the lymph nodes towards nearing lymph nodes. Hence, it is crucial to remember that an idle or sedentary lifestyle can substantially restrain lymph flow and block its detoxification and immune functions.

Lymph Nodes as Immune Filters

The lymph nodes function as immune filters before lymph re-enters the circulatory system. For instance, if a pathogen is detected, the white blood cells multiply to destroy it and thereby cause swelling on the lymph nodes.

Overall, the lymphatic system serves as an essential part of your body to produce and supply various types of white blood cells needed for proper absorption and subsequent transportation of fatty acids to the circulatory system, immune function, and removal of fluid surplus from body tissues.

Diseases Relating to your Lymphatic System

Immunologists generally treat diseases and disorders that involve the lymphatic system. However, dermatologists, oncologists, vascular surgeons, and physiatrists also have a role to play in the treatment of different lymphatic ailments.

According to Dr. James Hamrick at Kaiser Permanente in Atlanta, enlargement of the lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy), swelling due to lymph node blockage (lymphedema), and cancers in the lymphatic system are among the most common diseases of the lymphatic system.

The moment the lymph nodes detect bacteria or other viruses in the lymph fluid, they make more white blood cells that fight infection and thereby cause swelling. According to experts, these swollen nodes are often felt in the neck, groin, and underarms.


This disorder is frequently due to inflammation, infection, or cancer. Strep throat, locally infected skin wounds, or other viral infections usually cause lymphadenopathy. Autoimmune or inflammatory conditions, on the other hand, happen when an individual’s immune system is active, and hence results in the enlargement of lymph nodes. This condition usually happens in lupus.


Lymphoma is a disease that refers to the cancer of the lymph nodes. This condition happens when the specialized white blood cells called lymphocytes cultivate and grow uncontrollably. There are various types of lymphoma, including Hodgkin Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Between the two, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is considered more standard. Typical types of NHL, on the other hand, are follicular and account for approximately 30% of all NHL cases. It also diffuses sizeable B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). This type of NHL makes up for about 40-50% of NHL cases, with Burkitt’s lymphoma comprising the least percentage of NHL cases that makeup approximately 5% of the cases.


According to experts, the clinical approach to each category of NHL cases is unique, with varying patient outcome expectations.

When a person has a surgical history for cancer removal, swelling or lymphedema is considered more standard. This phenomenon frequently arises among women, particularly those who have had breast cancer surgery because lymph node removal in the armpit is considered part of breast cancer operation.

The more lymph nodes removed in an individual, the higher he/she is at risk of chronic swelling and pain due to lymphedema. Fortunately, modern surgical procedures are now making it possible to remove fewer lymph nodes for breast cancer survivors.

Interestingly, multiple research has been conducted on the reason behind lymphoma. In one case, the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam conducted a nationwide Dutch pathology registry research between 1990 and 2016. The research showed that 1 in every 35,000 at age 50, 12,000 at age 70, and 1 in 7,000 at age 75 are at risk of getting anaplastic large cell lymphoma after getting breast implants.

Castleman disease

This type of disease refers to several inflammatory disorders that induce the enlargement of lymph nodes. According to Castleman Disease Cooperative Network, this condition may result in multiple-organ dysfunction.

This condition is found to be similar to lymphoma, although not considered as cancer. The Castleman Disease is usually treated with chemotherapy, which may be unicentric, involving one lymph node, or multicentric, involving multiple lymph nodes.


According to Lymphangiomatosis & Gorham’s Disease Alliance, this type of disease involves various lesions or cysts developed from lymphatic vessels and is found to emerge from a genetic mutation.

Tonsil Stones

This type of disease is also considered another problem involving the lymphatic system. This is caused when white blood cells attack the remains that are caught on the tonsils and leave a thick biofilm that breathes oxygen. According to experts, “they look like prunes with crevices where bacteria can accumulate.” More often than not, tonsil stones just fall and get swallowed. Still, in limited cases, they need to be manually extracted.

How Do I Keep my Lymphatic System Healthy?

Photographer: Bruno Nascimento | Source: Unsplash

By now, you should know that having a healthy lymphatic system is essential. For one, it can help avoid illness and also keep the regular function of other bodily systems. That is why we highly encourage you to incorporate these tips for you to do your role in maintaining the proper function of your lymphatic system:

Avoid frequent exposure to harmful chemicals.

Avoid pollutants, toxic substances, and unhealthy environments. Toxic chemicals like pesticides and other cleaning agents may accumulate and build up in your system and make it difficult for your body to filter waste and function properly.

Drink plenty of water.

You need to stay hydrated. Staying hydrated makes it easier for the lymph to move throughout your body.

Maintain a healthy diet.

Maintaining a healthy diet involves eating foods that are rich in alkaline content and vegetables that have a full range of minerals, nutrients, and vitamins.

Exercise regularly.

Practice exercising daily and engage yourself in both aerobic and anaerobic activities. It is also essential for you to learn how to manage your stress well. You can do this through meditation, yoga, and other exercises that promote well-being and wellness.

You must know your lymphatic system is working nonstop to keep your body balanced, and you have a role to play in this. Keeping it in good order is not only essential to keep your lymphatic system running but also for your other bodily systems to function correctly.

When should I call my doctor about an issue with my lymphatic system?

If you experience extreme tiredness or fatigue, or if you often have unexplained swelling severe enough to last for a few weeks or interfere with your day-to-day activities, it is best to call your doctor for immediate diagnosis.