Obesity and Lymphoedema
A strong association between obesity and lymphoedema is frequently highlighted by experts in the field. Excess weight can restrict mobility, which can lead to a damaging cycle of further weight gain and even greater mobility issues. Ultimately, this vicious downward spiral can be hard to break out of, but it is by no means impossible!
As we’ve learnt throughout previous blogs, movement is the key mechanism underlying a healthy lymph system. So, as well as causing additional weight gain, the general lack of movement associated with obesity is detrimental to the flow of fluid around the lymphatic system. We’ve also learnt that a lack of flow will eventually lead to an excess build-up of lymph fluid in the tissues and lymph vessels, which over time can lead to lymphoedema.
Being obese can also directly impede lymph flow. Excess fat tissue can apply direct pressure on the ‘highway’ of lymph vessels and glands, forming a blockage. This has a knock-on effect on the lymph flow further down the line: think of a traffic jam caused by a car accident. Traffic will accumulate further and further down the road until the initial accident is cleared. It is the same here: If the excess weight is not lost or more is gained, lymph fluid will continue to build-up in the vessels further down the line, eventually leading to lymphoedema and the associated swelling.
Secondary lymphoedema is the non-genetic form of lymphoedema, caused by damage to the lymphatic system through environmental factors, such as injury, cancer treatment, an infection, inflammation of the limb, and a lack of limb movement. It can be caused by obesity too, which often occurs in the lower limbs. This is because as more weight is gained, the legs are relied on far less and, as a result, the swelling increases. This excess weight and enhanced swelling can often cause it to become too painful to walk or even stand, so much of the day is spent sitting or lying down.
In many cases the swelling is commonly attributed to obesity, and means that the underlying lymphoedema often goes undiagnosed, which only adds to the problem. Eventually, the pain and discomfort caused by the combination of the excess weight and the lymphoedema swelling can make it feel as though it’s incredibly difficult to get up and move.
Looking at the other side of the coin, lymphoedema can also lead to an increased risk of becoming obese since the swelling caused by lymphoedema can make it challenging to undertake normal, everyday activities. As lymphoedema progresses, it is likely to be associated with a reduction in activity level, which in turn heightens the risk of obesity and so the damaging downward spiral can continue.
On a positive note, if an individual with lymphoedema were to lose weight, they should also see a reduction in the swelling caused by their condition. This is an indication that being obese actually hinders our lymph system, preventing it from carrying out its normal drainage function and causing additional swelling. At the current time, the mechanism behind this remains unknown. What it does highlight though, is the importance of movement as part of a treatment programme to both stimulate lymph flow and increase calorie burn to promote weight loss.
At LymphActiv we recognise the importance of physical activity and finding the activities that you enjoy, to support the prevention and treatment of both obesity and lymphatic conditions. The benefits of everyday movement are endless, and every movement really does count. It’s never too late to start incorporating a little more physical activity into your daily routine and seeing these benefits. Now is the perfect time to take back control of your health and your life!
The LymphActiv Team