You have probably heard of your circulatory system, the series of vessels and arteries used to transport blood full of oxygen and nutrients around your body. What you may not know is that there is a second part to this system called the lymphatic circulation. Your lymphatic system serves many important functions:
- Absorb excess fluid in your tissues and return it to the blood circulation.
- Absorb and transport fats from your digestive system.
- Transport white blood cells throughout the body.
- Educate and mature immune cells to fight infections.
The lymphatic circulation is composed of lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, and lymphatic organs. Lymph nodes are found throughout your body, some 500 in total, usually located near your groin, armpits or neck. Lymph nodes filter the lymphatic fluid for pathogens and other hazards. Think of the lymph nodes as a trap that captures bad bugs and allows your white blood cells to easily find them.
Your lymphatic vessels act as a super highway for your white blood cells to quickly make their way around your body. They also direct them to lymph nodes where they can get an education on pathogens currently assaulting your body.
Lymphatic organs include the thymus, spleen, and other small tissues throughout the body. These organs are important in educating T cells or making antibodies to fight infection. The spleen is also important in removing old red blood cells and also in holding a reserve of blood for use during emergency situations.
When your lymphatic system doesn’t properly absorb excess fluid, you get excessive swelling particularly in your limbs. Your lymph nodes can often swell during infections as all the bacteria or viruses get caught in the filtration. You might feel these lymph nodes under your chin or in your neck during an illness.