The Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system acts as an aid to, and is interlinked with, the blood vascular system. Lymph is derived from the blood and is gradually shifted back into the bloodstream. The lymphatic system includes the lymph, lymphatic vessels, lymph ducts, lymph nodes, and lacteals. Also considered part of the lymph system are the tonsils, the spleen, and the thymus. The lymphatic vessels collect excess tissue fluid, invading micro-organisms, damaged cells, and protein molecules that are too large or too toxic to return directly to the blood system through the capillary walls. These materials are transported from the interstitial spaces through the lymph vessels, filtered through the lymph nodes, and eventually rejoin the blood near the junction of the subclavian and jugular veins. The lymphoid tissue also produces white blood cells, such as lymphocytes, that are an important element of the body’s immune system. Lymph is a straw-colored fluid that is derived from and is very similar to the tissue fluid or interstitial fluid of the body. By bathing all cells, tissue fluid acts a medium of exchange, trading to the cells its nutritive materials and receiving in return the waste products of metabolism. Most of the fluid that filters through the capillary walls to surround the cells is eventually reabsorbed into the capillaries. Lymph capillaries are located throughout the body with the exception of the epidermis of the skin, central nervous system, and bones. Lacteals are lymphatic capillaries located in the villi of the small intestine. After being collected in the lymph capillaries, lymph flows into lymphatics, which merge into larger and larger lymphatics. The pathways of the lymphatics are closely associated with the veins of the body. The lymphatics continue to merge until the lymph flows into one of two large lymph ducts and finally back into the blood. Lymph from the legs, abdomen, left arm, left side of the head, neck, and chest flows into the thoracic duct (left lymphatic duct). Lymph from the thoracic duct reenters the bloodstream through the left subclavian vein and from there flows into the superior vena cava and into the right atrium of the heart. Lymph from the right side of the head, neck, chest, and the right arm flows into the right lymphatic duct. Lymph from the right lymphatic duct reenters the blood stream at the right subclavian vein. The structure and arrangement of lymphatics resemble those of the veins. The lymph vessels contain a system of valves that allow fluid movement in only one direction. The action of external forces on this extensive system of valves creates a lymphatic pump. When a segment of a lymph vessel is compressed, the pressure on the fluid in that segment forces the previous valve to close and the next one to open as the fluid moves through the valve and progresses toward the heart. The external pressure that activates the lymphatic pump is supplied primarily from the contraction of the skeletal muscles. Other factors that may contribute are movement of the body parts, breathing, contractions of smooth muscles in the larger lymph vessels, arterial pulsation, and compression of tissues from outside influences, such as massage. Lymph nodes are made of lymphoid tissue and are located along the course of the lymphatics. They are oval or rounded masses that contain a large concentration of lymphocytes and serve to filter and neutralize harmful bacteria and toxic substances collected in the lymph. Lymph nodes are found in the following regions of the body: 1) base of the skull (occipital), 2) under the mandible (submandibular), 3) in the armpit (axillary), 4) in the groin (inguinal), 5) behind the knee (popliteal), 6) in the breast (mammary), 7) and in the neck (cervical).


Questions for Discussion and Review: “The Lymphatic System”
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. Which system works very closely to the lymphatic system? Which structures compose the lymphatic system? What are some of the functions of the lymphatic vessels? What is lymph? What are lacteals? Where does the lymph on the left side of the body drain? Where does the lymph on the right side of the body drain? What is unique about the structure of lymphatic vessels that promotes one-way travel of lymph? 9. Describe the “lymphatic pump”. 10. What are lymph nodes? 11. Where is the occipital lymph node found? 12. Where is the submandibular lymph node found? 13. Where are the axillary lymph nodes found? 14. Where are the inguinal lymph nodes found? 15. Where is the popliteal lymph node found? 16. Where are the mammary lymph nodes found? 17. Where are the cervical lymph nodes found?


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