Obesity Linked to Painful Leg Swelling

Obesity, already known to increase the risks of diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and certain forms of cancer, may also be tied to a condition causing profuse and painful leg swelling, new research shows.

Lymphedema - Source: Wikimedia CommonsDr. Arin Greene and colleagues at Children’s Hospital Boston reported the findings of a study on the link between lower-extremity lymphedema and excess weight in a letter to the editor published in the May 31 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Lymphedema is caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system, an important part of the immune and circulatory systems. The blockage prevents lymph fluid from draining properly, and as the fluid builds up, the swelling continues.

Lymphedema in the legs causes swelling, pain, discomfort, tightness in the skin, difficulty walking and decreased flexibility. Although often treated with compression stockings and massage therapy, lymphedema can have more serious implications if not resolved. The complications of lymphedema include psychosocial disorders, skin changes, infection and, rarely, malignant transformation.

Dr. Greene’s team determined that the body may have a threshold above which lymphatic flow becomes impaired as body mass index (BMI) increases. Among the 15 obese patients whom the data was reported on, five patients with a BMI above 59 had lymphedema, and each patient with a BMI less than 54 had normal lymphatic function.

Patients ranged in age from 34 to 78, and 12 of the 15 patients studied were women. There was no difference in the results between the groups with respect to sex. The patients all underwent evaluation with lymphoscintigraphy, which is reportedly 100 percent specific and 92 percent sensitive for lymphedema.

“Our findings suggest that obesity, which affects one-third of the population in the United States, may be a cause of lower-extremity lymphedema,” the authors wrote. “Although lymphedema is typically progressive, we speculate that major weight loss (e.g., after a bariatric procedure) might reverse lymphatic insufficiency in obese patients with this condition.”

One Response

  1. wilmy

    hi my name is wilmy im wrighting this because i need help for my mother she needs help she has arthiths and she obese and diebetise i really need someones help like a specialist or something im not the ask for help type person but for her i will she s a special person please reply back thank u

    Reply

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