Effects of Substance Abuse on Lymph Nodes (Swelling, Blockages & Pain)

4 min read · 5 sections

Lymphatic system anatomical vector illustration diagram

What is the Lymphatic System?

The lymph system or lymphatic system is an extensive network of vessels that run through nearly every tissue in the body, allowing for the movement of lymph, a fluid, to circulate throughout the body in the same manner that blood circulates.

There are approximately 600 nodes in the body that may swell when an individual has an infection. The swelling is due to the accumulation of lymph fluid, bacteria, and other organisms and or cells from the immune system. Very often, a physician will check the lymph nodes of the throat when a person is complaining of a throat infection, irritation, or sore throat. Physicians may also check the lymph nodes under the jaw, groin area, or even under the armpits when checking for infection.

Lymphatic System Definitions

The lymphatic system is an important part of the immune system along with the bone marrow, tonsils, spleen, appendix, thymus gland, and specialized Peyer’s patches in the small intestine. This system consists of:

  • Lymphatic vessels: These are larger than the capillaries, part of the venous system that feeds specific tissues, but smaller than many veins. Most of the lymphatic vessels only allow for the movement of lymph in one direction (toward the heart) and drain lymph from the system.
  • Lymph nodes: These are collection centers for lymph. All lymph passes through these filters, which help to remove damaged cells and foreign particles in the body. Lymph nodes also house white blood cells that are specialized to engulf and destroy damaged cells, foreign particles, and infectious organisms.
  • Lymph: This is a specialized fluid that contains numerous substances that can provide nourishment to the tissues and can move damaged cells or infectious substances that are drained out of the body.

Functions & Goals of the Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system drains into collecting ducts that empty their contents into two vessels under the collarbones (subclavian veins), which lead to other veins forming a system that drains blood from the upper body into the heart (via the superior vena cava). Thus, the three main functions of the lymphatic system are:

  • Maintaining fluid homeostasis: The system maintains the balance of fluid between the blood and the rest of the tissues in the body.
  • Defense: It is part of the immune system.
  • Digestion: It helps absorb fats and fat-soluble substances in the digestive system.

Substance Abuse and Disorders of the Lymphatic System

women with thyroid gland problem on the blue background

There are numerous influences that can affect the functioning of the lymphatic system. In order to simplify things, we’ll concentrate on three major factors that can disrupt the functioning of the lymphatic system: blockages, cancer, and infections.

It is safe to say that any type of chronic substance abuse can lead to a disruption of the efficiency of the lymphatic system. This can result due to a lack of attention to self-care, the direct effects of the drug itself, or the effects of substances that are added to the drug for various reasons. Compromise of the lymphatic system can lead to serious health issues that can eventually alter the course of a person’s life or even end it.

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