The lymphatic system is made up of an extensive network of vessels, tissues and organs that runs throughout the body. Considered part of both the circulatory and immune systems, the lymphatic system performs a variety of supportive functions for these systems. The primary role of the lymphatic system is to collect and filter excess fluid found in cells and tissues before returning the fluid to the bloodstream. During the filtration process, it may detect harmful viruses and bacteria, which lead to infection. When that happens, the lymphatic system sounds an alarm for the immune response to deal with the issue.
Key Functions of the Lymphatic System
Maintain proper fluid levels in the body
Water, proteins and other substances continuously leak out of blood capillaries into surrounding body tissue. This fluid, known as lymph, needs to be returned to the circulatory system to help the body maintain healthy blood pressure and avoid unnecessary swelling. Each day the lymphatic system collects nearly two to three liters of this fluid and re-circulates it through the body.
A network of lymphatic vessels collects and transports the lymph to the lymph nodes. The nodes, located most prominently in the armpit, neck and groin, act as a filtering site for lymph fluid and house white blood cells known as lymphocytes.
During the filtering process, lymphocytes attack and kill foreign material like bacteria and pathogens that might be found in the fluid. As the nodes fight infection, it can cause swelling commonly referred to as ‘swollen glands’. While an enlarged node can signal a problem, most are not dangerous. Since the nodes expand due an increase in white blood cells, it is simply an indication that the system is doing its job. Once the bacteria or virus is eliminated, the nodes will return to normal size. Doctors checking lymph nodes during routine office visits do so in order to make sure the nodes are properly filtering and draining pathogens and waste out of the system.
Keeping your lymphatic system in good shape
It is vitally important to maintain a healthy lymphatic system in order to prevent illness and to keep other important body systems functioning properly. To encourage the health and functioning of your lymphatic system, try these simple lifestyle tips: