Analysis of collateral lymphatic circulation in patients with lower limb lymphedema using magnetic resonance lymphangiography

Shigeyoshi Soga, Fumio Onishi, Masahiro Jinzaki, Ayako Mikoshi, Toshiharu Minabe, Hiroshi Shinmoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Although the development of lymphatic collaterals is expected following lymphedema, little is known about the anatomic details of such compensatory pathways or their association with symptoms. Magnetic resonance lymphangiography (MRL) has been shown to be superior to lymphoscintigraphy and indocyanine green lymphography in visualizing lymphatics. This study aimed to analyze MRL images of lower limbs to elucidate the patterns of lymphatic collateral formation and their association with the clinical stages of lymphedema. Methods: We enrolled 56 consecutive patients (112 lower limbs) with lymphedema who underwent MRL. Two radiologists performed a consensus reading of MRL images for the presence or absence of collateral lymphatic pathways, and the results were compared with the clinical stages. Furthermore, the frequency of abnormal MRL findings in 43 asymptomatic lower limbs of patients with unilateral lymphedema was analyzed and compared with that in the 69 symptomatic lower limbs of the patients. The imaging findings were also compared with the cause of lymphedema. Results: All three collateral pathways (anterolateral, deep, and posteromedial lymphatics) were visualized at a higher (P <.05) frequency in stage II than in stage 0 lower limbs. The frequency of visualization of the three collaterals was significantly higher in symptomatic (stages I-III) lower limbs than in asymptomatic (stage 0) lower limbs. Most (76.8%) of the symptomatic limbs exhibited at least one of these collaterals, and the frequency was significantly higher than in the asymptomatic limbs (P <.001). Most (81.4%) of the asymptomatic (stage 0) lower limbs had at least one abnormal finding in terms of lymphatic circulation, although this proportion was significantly lower compared with the symptomatic limbs (98.6%). The collaterals tended to appear less frequently in primary lymphedema than in secondary lymphedema, reaching statistical significance in the posteromedial lymphatics. Conclusions: These results suggested that the two superficial lymphatic groups and the deep lymphatic system act as major collaterals of the lower limbs in patients with lymphedema. Furthermore, MRL of most patients with unilateral lymphedema demonstrated abnormal findings, including collateral formation, not only in the affected lower limb but also in the asymptomatic lower limb. In primary lymphedema, the collaterals may appear less frequently than in secondary lymphedema. Collaterals should be taken into consideration in planning the site of lymphaticovenous anastomosis and assessing disease progression. MRL can visualize preclinical alterations in lymphatic flow and compensatory pathways; therefore, we expect that it will be useful for the early diagnosis of lymphedema.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-481.e1
JournalJournal of Vascular Surgery: Venous and Lymphatic Disorders
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Mar


  • Collateral circulation
  • Lymphatic abnormalities
  • Lymphedema
  • Lymphography
  • Magnetic resonance imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Analysis of collateral lymphatic circulation in patients with lower limb lymphedema using magnetic resonance lymphangiography'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this