Sunday, February 23, 2014



Elephantiasis (also known as lymphedema or filariasis) is the swelling that occurs generally in the arms and legs. The swelling typically affects one arm or leg at a time but sometimes can affect both. The enlargement of ones limbs is caused by a blockage of the lymphatic system which results in a fluid known as lymph to accumulate in the affected area. The lymphatic system is an important part of the immune and circulatory system as it helps prevent the blockage of the lymph fluid. The lymph vessels help drain the thin watery fluid known as lymph from different areas of the body into the blood stream.
A man seeking treatment for his Filariasis, courtesy of


 Lymphedema commonly occurs in individuals who have recently underwent cancer treatment to remove damaged lymphnodes. In countries where elephantiasis prevalent (countries in the tropics, sub-tropics of Asia, the Caribbean, South America and Africa), the affliction is commonly by a microscopic thread-like parasitic worm

that is injected into an individuals bloodstream through mosquito bites. When a mosquito bites an individual with elephantiasis, the parasitic worms infect the mosquito and use it as a vector to pass on this disease to other individuals. As these worms get passed on through mosquito bites, they travel to the lymph vessels and grown into adult worms that then reproduce to create more worms in the lymph vessels. An adult worm can live around 5-7 years.


Surprisingly, many individuals who are infected with the parasitic form of elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis) show no symptoms of the disease and will never develop any symptoms even after the parasite has damaged their lymph system. However, a small percentage of individuals do show clinical symptoms which include:
  • dull aches in the affected limb
  • a tightness feeling of the affected area
  • difficulty moving or bending the joint due to swelling and skin tightness


A young girl in Sri-Lanka getting tested for the filariasis parasites, courtesy of WHO for South-East Asia 

While there is no cure for elephantiasis, there are ways to control the growth of the microscopic (non-adult) worms. A yearly dosage of medicine known as diethlycarbamazine (DEC) can be administered which kills the microscopic worms circulating in the blood. unfortunately, for the lymphedema form of elephantiasis (non-parasitic form) DEC is not a viable option. Instead, pressure garments, light exercise and message therapy can be considered for those with the lymphedema.

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