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What is Lymph?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Lymph is a clear to yellowish watery fluid that is found throughout the body. It circulates through body tissues picking up fats, bacteria, and other unwanted materials, and filtering them out through the lymphatic system. It is sometimes possible to see this fluid; cuts sometimes weep it rather than blood, for example. Its circulation through the body is an important part of immune system health.

This fluid contains white blood cells, known as lymphocytes, along with a small concentration of red blood cells and proteins. It circulates freely through the body, bathing cells in needed nutrients and oxygen while it collects harmful materials for disposal. People can think of it as the milkman of the body, dropping off fresh supplies and picking up discarded bottles for processing elsewhere.

As lymph circulates, it is pulled into the lymphatic system, an extensive network of vessels and capillaries that is linked to lymph nodes, small nodules that act as filters to trap unwanted substances. The nodes also produce more white blood cells, refreshing the fluid before it is pumped back into the body. The fluid may not be as showy as blood, but it is related to an equally complex and ornate system of vessels.

Lymph also explains why things like intramuscular shots at the doctor's office work. When a medical professional injects a substance into muscle tissue, it is picked up by the fluid and then slowly filtered into the bloodstream. When people wear tight clothing or their circulation is otherwise impeded, fluids can build up in the tissue, causing edema, a condition that can be both painful and dangerous. Edema happens when lymph cannot circulate to pull these fluids out.

The lymphatic system can sometimes be used as a diagnostic tool to help doctors understand disease. Lymph nodes can be biopsied, for example, to collect evidence about bacterial agents and toxins in a patient's body. Some types of bodywork are also designed to promote the healthy circulation of lymph to encourage drainage and healthy tissues. Lymphatic massage and other types of bodywork require special training, as a massage therapist can inadvertently cause lymphedema, a collection of fluid in a limb, which can become dangerous and extremely painful.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon929707 — On Feb 02, 2014

Is lymph tissue fluid, then?

By anon200440 — On Jul 27, 2011

excellent site! found heaps of the information i needed for a school assignment, and even found some cool facts on lymph.

By anon180628 — On May 26, 2011

The lymphatic system does not have a pump to circulate it, as the circulatory system. Lymph relies on the contraction of surrounding skeletal muscle to move it, and valves to prevent it from backing up.

By anon158291 — On Mar 06, 2011

How is the lymph circulated without the use of a pump or contraction?

By anon155969 — On Feb 25, 2011

where is the auricle located and what is it?

By anon147261 — On Jan 28, 2011

How does it work, though?

By anon140472 — On Jan 07, 2011

Wow. That really made me understand the whole lymph system and how everything works. Thanks!

By anon101172 — On Aug 02, 2010

informative and helpful.

By anon94618 — On Jul 09, 2010

Very good info for medicos like me. Thank you.

By anon90977 — On Jun 19, 2010

Amazing article. It helped with my homework!

By anon83299 — On May 10, 2010

Fine article.

By anon70768 — On Mar 16, 2010

found it very helpful.

By anon59563 — On Jan 09, 2010

Very informative. Thank you.

By anon37660 — On Jul 21, 2009

for a lot of days i was confused about what lymph was but after reading this have well understood. Thank you.

By anon28697 — On Mar 20, 2009

Great article very informative and accurate! Thank you! You helped me with my homework!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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