Chronic Medical Conditions: Lymphedema and Venous Insufficiency
Lymphedema and chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) are diseases of the lymphatic and venous systems that result in progressive swelling, inflammation and skin changes. Although there is no cure for lymphedema, the symptoms and complications can be controlled with the initial care of a certified clinician and daily treatment at home. CVI, if not treated or controlled, can result in progressive skin changes and difficult-to-treat venous leg ulcers.
About the Lymphatic and Venous Systems
The lymphatic and venous systems work together to maintain fluid balance in the body. In a normally functioning circulatory system, arteries carry oxygenated and nutrient-rich blood from the heart to all parts of the body. The veins then carry the blood, depleted of oxygen and nutrients, back to the heart for reoxygenation.
Some molecules are too large for the veins to take in and are absorbed and transported by the lymphatic system. While the lymphatic system has a key role in the body’s immune defense, its primary function is to help balance fluid by clearing the remaining excess water, large molecules such as plasma proteins, and cellular debris from the interstitial space. As the body’s drainage and filtering system, the lymphatic system transports protein-rich fluid to the lymph nodes for detoxification before returning the fluid to the venous circulation.
Chronic swelling develops when the lymphatic system and/or venous system has not developed properly or becomes damaged. In CVI, when normal blood flow is hindered, the increased venous pressure from valvular incompetence or obstruction results in blood and fluid leakage into the surrounding tissue. As fluid accumulates, swelling, hyperpigmentation and fibrosis (hardening) occur, leading to progressive tissue breakdown and venous leg ulceration. Prolonged or untreated CVI may damage the lymphatics due to increased capillary permeability and fluid burden pressure, contributing to lymphedema in addition to venous edema.