Anatomy & Organs

Lymph vessels – structure, function & diseases

Lymph vessels

Lymphatic vessels form a tubular structure and serve to transport aqueous solutions. In the body, they run alongside veins and arteries.

What are lymph vessels?

Lymphatic vessels resemble the shape of blood vessels. However, they are not responsible for the transport of blood , but for the transport of lymph. Lymph is a light yellow liquid.

It has proteins, fats and water. In addition, it contains important immune cells that are essential for the body’s defenses. Lymph is found throughout the body’s tissues, which is why lymphatic vessels appear in all tissue occurrences.

An exception are bones , cartilage and teeth . In connection with the lymph vessels, the lymph nodes also play an important role. The lymph nodes are an important part of the immune system. They act as a filter station and have the task of cleaning the lymph.

With the lymph vessels, the lymph nodes form the lymphatic system of the human body. The vessels begin as a small branch system and merge into large tracts. They lie parallel to venous vessels and run through the entire body.

Anatomy & Structure

Lymph vessels are divided into four types of vessels. They are each associated with different characteristics and tasks. However, the vessel types also share some similarities. All lymphatic vessels consist of three wall layers. The innermost forms the intima . This is followed by the media and the adventitia .

  • The lymph capillaries form the finest form of the four vessel types. With them, the lymphatic system is able to reach into the deepest layers of tissue. In the form of a branch system, lymphatic capillaries are able to absorb even small amounts of tissue fluid. As the smallest unit of the lymphatic system, the capillaries have a width of 50 µm.
  • The pre-collectors form the next stage. They collect the tissue fluid and pass it on to the third type of vessel, the so-called collectors.
  • The collectors contract at regular intervals to push the lymph to the next collectors.
  • Finally, the lymphatic collecting trunks form the largest vascular form of the lymphatic system. They collect the lymph from the collectors and flow into the venous bloodstream . In contrast to the blood vessels, the lymph vessels do not form a closed system.

Function & Tasks

Lymphatic vessels are primarily responsible for the return transport of the remaining lymph. This is tissue fluid that has not been completely reabsorbed by the blood vessel system. There are also protein molecules. They are transported back into the venous bloodstream together with the tissue fluid.

Furthermore, the immunobiological effect is one of the most important tasks of the lymphatic vessels. It protects the body from infections and foreign antigens. In addition, antibodies are produced that support the immune system . Another function of the lymph vessels is to transport fats. In the context of fat digestion, these are taken up with the diet. In the small intestine , they are packed into so-called chylomicrons. They then enter the blood via the lymph vessels.

Furthermore, thanks to the lymphatic vessels, the body is able to dispose of metabolic products, foreign bodies and pathogens. This also applies to the lymph nodes. They take on a cleansing function and support the immune system’s defenses. Furthermore, the lymphatic vessels have the task of bringing about a reliable return transport of protein. Specifically, it should be possible to avoid large accumulations of protein molecules in the interstitium.

The term interstitium is used to describe intermediate tissue, as it occurs as connective , supporting and muscle tissue. If the pressure were to increase as a result of an accumulation of protein molecules, disruptions in the blood flow could occur. Finally, lymph vessels fulfill the task of transporting chylomicrons from the gastrointestinal tract. Chylomicrons are small particles that contain cholesterol .

Diseases & Ailments

Lymphangitis and lymphedema are the most common diseases of the lymphatic vessels. Lymphangitis is colloquially known as blood poisoning. This is an inflammation of the lymph vessels, mainly on the skin and in the subcutaneous fatty tissue. Lymphangitis can be attributed to bacterial infection. The primary triggers are streptococci and staphylococci . In rare cases, lymphangitis is triggered by the consumption of chemotherapy drugs or other cytostatics .A red spot on the skin above the inflamed lymph channels is a symptom. In the advanced stage, fever and malaise are the consequences. Lymphangitis can usually be treated well with antibiotics.

Lymphedema, on the other hand, is a palpable accumulation of fluid in the intercellular space. The edema can appear in the extremities, face and genitals. A disturbance of the lymphatic system means that the tissue water can no longer be transported away. The accumulation of fluid is associated with an inflammatory clinical picture.

Possible causes include previous infectious diseases, cardiac insufficiency, kidney diseases, liver problems and thyroid diseases . In the course of the disease, lymphedema can be divided into a primary and a secondary variant. Both variants share the common feature that the lymphatic loads are not managed. A distinction is made in the course analysis.

The primary edema occurs in the legs and can be attributed to a hormonal change. In contrast, secondary lymphedema is the result of tissue destruction. Triggers include burns, chemical burns, and skin bruising. With massage techniques and compression bandages, it is possible to alleviate it.

Exercise therapy can also help. In particularly severe cases, super microsurgery is performed. The aim is to restore the functionality of the affected lymphatic vessels. With small incisions, it is possible to reduce lymph water retention in the long term.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.