Clinical and pathological aspects of filarial lymphedema and its management

Korean J Parasitol. 2008 Sep;46(3):119-25. doi: 10.3347/kjp.2008.46.3.119.


Lymphatic filariasis, transmitted by mosquitoes is the commonest cause of lymphedema in endemic countries. Among 120 million infected people in 83 countries, up to 16 million have lymphedema. Microfilariae ingested by mosquitoes grow into infective larvae. These larvae entering humans after infected mosquito bites grow in the lymphatics to adult worms that cause damage to lymphatics resulting in dilatation of lymph vessels. This earliest pathology is demonstrated in adults as well as in children, by ultrasonography, lymphoscintigraphy and histopathology studies. Once established, this damage was thought to be irreversible. This lymphatic damage predisposes to bacterial infection that causes recurrent acute attacks of dermato-lymphangio-adenitis in the affected limbs. Bacteria, mainly streptococci gain entry into the lymphatics through 'entry lesions' in skin, like interdigital fungal infections, injuries, eczema or similar causes that disrupt integrity of skin. Attacks of dermato-lymphangio-adenitis aggravates lymphatic damage causing lymphedema, which gets worse with repeated acute attacks. Elephantiasis is a late manifestation of lymphatic filariasis, which apart from limbs may involve genitalia or breasts. Lymphedema management includes use of antifilarial drugs in early stages, treatment and prevention of acute attacks through 'limb-hygiene', antibiotics and antifungals where indicated, and physical measures to reduce the swelling. In selected cases surgery is helpful.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Diethylcarbamazine / therapeutic use
  • Elephantiasis, Filarial / drug therapy*
  • Elephantiasis, Filarial / pathology*
  • Filaricides / therapeutic use
  • Humans


  • Filaricides
  • Diethylcarbamazine