Does Major Weight Loss Help Lymphedema?

Lymphedema occurs when there is an obstruction in the lymphatic system. In many cases, one develops lymphedema as a result of post-cancer surgery or radiation therapy which implicates the lymphatic system. Other causes include infections such as severe cellulitis, inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and being overweight or obese. If the causative factor is excess weight or obesity, then major weight loss can help improve lymphedema. However, lymphedema has no cure, and one can only adopt ways which will help with managing the condition.

Does Major Weight Loss Help Lymphedema?

Lymphedema refers to an abnormal accumulation of the lymphatic fluid in tissues of the limbs. This then results in blockage of the lymphatic system which makes drainage of the fluid difficult, hence swelling of the limbs. Morbid obesity causes damage to the lymphatic system and increases the production of lymph fluid. This tends to make the excess fluid produced accumulate in any damaged areas in the lymphatic system leading to swelling of these areas. Excess weight, especially postoperative weight gain, also reduces mobility which in turn leads to reduced lymph clearance from cells. Adding to that, obesity is also seen as a risk factor for individuals with an existing non-symptomatic lymphatic deficiency. This implies that, if you have a pre-existing condition of lymphedema that has not manifested itself, obesity can act as a trigger leading to its development.

How Does Weight Loss Help With Lymphedema Cases?

If you are susceptible to lymphedema, it is important that you keep a healthy weight, either through eating properly or exercising regularly. Losing weight plays a crucial role in lymphedema management as it improves the symptoms of the ailment. Furthermore, you do not have an excess weight, which can compress the lymphatic vessels leading to obstruction and abnormal flow of lymphatic fluid (lymph). The aim of losing any excess weight is to alleviate swelling and at the same time, regain normal lymphatic flow in the body. It is important to understand that weight loss does not fix lymphedema, rather, it only eases the symptoms of the condition. This is because lymphedema is due to accumulation of lymphatic fluid, which is rich in proteins, and not a collection of fat or adipose tissue in the affected limbs.

Other Treatment Options For Lymphedema

Lymphedema can be treated using various therapeutic methods apart from weight loss and watching your diet. As a matter of fact, to get better results from lymphedema treatment methods, you can combine several of them for the final results. For example, you should exercise often which allows the accumulated lymphatic fluid to flow out of the affected tissues. Exercising goes hand in hand with the use of compression garments which will inhibit the accumulation of the lymphatic in regions where the lymphatic system is damaged. A liposuction is also an effective treatment method which works by reducing the volume of the accumulated lymphatic fluid. After a liposuction, you can wear a protective sleeve or stocking to further improve the condition.

Manual lymph therapy entails massaging the affected limbs in a systematic manner to improve drainage. This massage therapy can be combined with various treatment methods in a complex decongestive therapy to help with swelling. In cases of extreme lymphedema, palliative surgery can be performed to obliterate lymphatic fluid which has collected on various parts of the body causing lymphedema. It can also be done to remove the affected tissue and repair any damage caused on the lymphatic system.


The answer to the question, whether major weight loss helps with lymphedema, is a big yes! Why? Because weight loss reduces the strain on the affected areas making the condition a little bit bearable. The aim of treating lymphedema is to restore mobility and reduce any physical pain one may be experiencing and physical appearance as well. Shedding off weight increases one’s mobility and enhances lymphatic flow, thus reducing swelling on the affected limbs. One can lose weight either through non-surgical weight loss methods such as exercising and a good diet. Alternatively, one can lose weight via surgical weight loss methods such as bariatric surgery is necessary.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 30, 2018

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