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“I can only feel maybe 5% of my feet.” These are words from radio and television personality Wendy Williams, opening up about her Lymphedema diagnosis.  Following the daytime television host’s show ending after 13 years, she has since opened up about the health complications. In a since-deleted Instagram post, she shared a photo of her swollen feet caused by Lymphedema. The post helped raise awareness of these severe yet rare conditions. With Lymphedema Awareness Month coming to an end, we answer all your questions about the condition.

What Is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a chronic condition that causes swelling in the body’s tissues. This is due to a build-up of lymph, a protein-rich fluid drained through the body’s lymphatic system. Occurring in the arms or legs, it can also affect various parts of the body including the chest wall, abdomen, neck, and more rarely, the genitals. The condition occurs when your lymphatic system isn’t functioning, leading to an accumulation of fluids and swelling.

What Causes It?

There are various factors that health experts have cited as potential causes of lymphedema. This does differ based on the type of lymphedema affecting you:

1. Primary Lymphedema

The rare benign condition occurs as a result of faulty genes and affects about 1 in 100,000 people in the U.S.

It is caused by the malformation of the lymph vessels and nodes. This takes place when the lymphatic system hasn’t developed or isn’t functioning due to genetic reasons. Primary lymphedema can have various causes:

  • Hypoplasia: It is the most common cause of primary lymphedema. This occurs when lymphatic vessels are underdeveloped or present in below-average numbers.
  • Hyperplasia: This occurs when lymphatic vessels are larger than normal. This results in them not working as well as normal-sized vessels.
  • Fibrosis of lymph nodes: Occurs when vessel tissues are hardened and scarred
  • Aplasia: Occurs when parts of the lymphatic system are missing

2. Secondary Lymphedema

It is more common than primary lymphedema and affects about 1 in 1000 people in the U.S.). The condition is often caused by an injury or another disease. While it also has various causes, it is encapsulated by a damaged lymphatic system or an overload of lymph fluid that becomes hard to drain. These causes include:

  • Complications from cancer treatment: This condition can develop after various cancer treatments. This includes the removal of lymph nodes, radiotherapy, and even some types of chemotherapy.  It is seen with prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. However, other cancers associated with it include pelvic area cancer, melanoma, and cancer of the head and neck.
  • Obesity: Being overweight can act as a source of stress to the lymphatic system by applying pressure onto lymph nodes and vessels.
  • Wounds and skin infections: Minor skin injuries and skin diseases (including fungal infections and cellulitis) are causes of this form of lymphedema.

The Importance of The Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system is a network of tissues, organs, and vessels that work together to move lymph (a colorless, watery fluid) back into your circulatory system.

  • Maintaining body fluid levels: Known as our body’s “sewerage system”, the lymphatic system handles collecting and removing excess fluid (also known as lymph, distributed throughout the body by the cardiovascular system) that leaks from your cells and tissues throughout your body. The fluid is returned to your bloodstream, then recirculated throughout the body.
  • Absorbing fat from the digestive tract: Lymph is made up of fluids from your intestines that contain fats and proteins. Unlike other nutrients, this fat cannot be absorbed into the blood from the gut. This is because the fat molecules are too large to be taken up by the small capillaries that line them. Since it would clog them up, it must be absorbed in another way, which is where the lymphatic system comes in. The lymphatic system absorbs these fats and fat-soluble vitamins from the digestive system
  • Protecting the body from foreign invaders: The lymphatic system produces and releases lymphocytes (white blood cells) and other immune cells that watch and then destroy the foreign invaders. This includes bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi, that can enter your body. Lymphocytes help generate adaptive immune responses and develop a memory compartment for future responses. This helps your body’s immune system fight cancer and foreign viruses.


  • Swelling in various parts of your body (including your arms, legs, chest, shoulders, and breasts)
  • Tingling, numbness, or aching in the affected area
  • Decreased flexibility and movement in the nearby joints of the affected area
  • Rings, watches, or clothing suddenly being too tight
  • Hardened and tight skin
  • Wart-like growths develop on the skin
  • Fluid leaking through the skin

How Is This Condition Diagnosed?

If you’re experiencing swelling that may be linked to lymphedema, or any of the listed symptoms, a doctor can conduct tests to determine if the cause is lymphedema, including:

  • Doppler Ultrasound: By bouncing high-frequency sound (ultrasound) waves off red blood cells, this test is able to look at your blood flow, finding obstructions and possible causes of swelling (including blood clots).
  • CT Scan: By using X-rays, this test is able to create detailed, cross-sectional images of your body structure. This makes it possible to see if pressure is being placed on your lymphatic system.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): By using a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to create 3D images of the inside of your body, this test works like a CT scan, being able to see if pressure is being placed on your lymphatic system.

Lymphedema: Not a Life Sentence to Confinement

While there is no cure for this condition, there are a few ways to treat it, so it doesn’t affect your quality of life. From wearing compression garments that move fluids into circulation, to physical therapy, which you can do yourself.

While this may be a life-changing diagnosis, the TV personality refused to let the condition slow her down, with her recently spotted filming in her hometown, New Jersey. 

The celebrity shared that she plans to move from the small screen to podcasting, adding that she is “100% retired” from daytime TV. But from this to a potential sneaker brand catering to lymphedema swelling, Wendy is an inspiration, showing that the diagnosis isn’t a life stopper.

MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: therealwendywilliamsonline/instagram


  • Azhar, S.H., Lim, H.Y., Tan, B.K. and Angeli, V., 2020. The unresolved pathophysiology of lymphedema. Frontiers in physiology, 11, p.137.
  • Daga, P., Kumar, H.S., Sharma, N., Jakhar, S.L. and Harsh, K.K., 2021. Long Term Arm and Shoulder Toxicities in Breast Cancer Patients Receiving Hypofractionated Radiation Therapy. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Care, 6(3), pp.311-315.
Bongane Nxumalo

Bongane Nxumalo

As a recent graduate of Rhodes University, Bongane is skilled in content production and editing for Print Media, Digital Media, and On-Air Content. With an interest in Current Affairs, Entertainment, and Politics, Bongane is able to provide a vast range of content that is relevant, informative, educational, and entertaining.


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