Lymphedema and Disability | Lymphatic Obstruction

Lymphatic obstruction occurs when the lymph vessels that drain fluid from tissues throughout the body and allow immune cells to travel where they are needed are blocked. Such obstruction may cause lymphedema, which is swelling due to a blockage of the lymph passages.

The most common cause of lymphatic obstruction is the removal or enlargement of the lymph nodes.

Other causes of lymphatic obstruction include:

  • Infections with parasites such as filariasis;
  • Injury;
  • Radiation therapy;
  • Skin infections such as cellulitis (more common in obese patients);
  • Surgery; and
  • Tumors.

Here in the United States, one of the most common causes of lymphedema is the removal of the breast (mastectomy) and underarm lymph tissue for breast cancer. This causes lymphedema of the arm in 10 – 15% of patients, because the lymphatic drainage of the arm passes through the armpit (axilla).