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Lymphadenitis

Lymph node infection; Lymph gland infection; Localized lymphadenopathy

 

Lymphadenitis is an infection of the lymph nodes (also called lymph glands). It is a common complication of certain bacterial infections.

Causes

 

The lymph system (lymphatics) is a network of lymph nodes, lymph ducts, lymph vessels, and organs that produce and move a fluid called lymph from tissues to the bloodstream.

The lymph glands, or lymph nodes, are small structures that filter the lymph fluid. There are many white blood cells in the lymph nodes to help fight infection.

Lymphadenitis occurs when the glands become enlarged by swelling (inflammation), often in response to bacteria, viruses, or fungi. The swollen glands are usually found near the site of an infection, tumor, or inflammation.

Lymphadenitis may occur after skin infections or other infections caused by bacteria such as streptococcus or staphylococcus. Sometimes it is caused by rare infections such as tuberculosis or cat scratch disease (Bartonella).

 

Symptoms

 

Symptoms may include:

  • Red, tender skin over lymph node
  • Swollen, tender, or hard lymph nodes

Lymph nodes may feel rubbery if an abscess (pocket of pus) has formed or they have become inflamed.

 

Exams and Tests

 

The health care provider will perform a physical exam. This includes feeling your lymph nodes and looking for signs of injury or infection around any swollen lymph nodes.

A biopsy and culture of the affected area or node may reveal the cause of the inflammation. Blood cultures may reveal spread of infection to the bloodstream.

 

Treatment

 

Lymphadenitis may spread within hours. Treatment should begin right away.

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics to treat any infection
  • Analgesics (painkillers) to control pain
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce inflammation
  • Cool compresses to reduce inflammation and pain

Surgery may be needed to drain an abscess.

 

Outlook (Prognosis)

 

Prompt treatment with antibiotics usually leads to a complete recovery. It may take weeks, or even months, for swelling to disappear.

 

Possible Complications

 

Untreated lymphadenitis may lead to:

  • Abscess formation
  • Cellulitis (a skin infection)
  • Fistulas (seen in lymphadenitis that is due to tuberculosis)
  • Sepsis (bloodstream infection)

 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

 

Call your provider or go to the emergency room if you have symptoms of lymphadenitis.

 

Prevention

 

Good general health and hygiene are helpful in the prevention of any infection.

 

 

References

Pasternack MS, Swartz MN, Morton N. Lymphadenitis and lymphangitis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 97.

 
  • Lymphatic system

    Lymphatic system - illustration

    The lymphatic system filters fluid from around cells. It is an important part of the immune system. When people refer to swollen glands in the neck, they are usually referring to swollen lymph nodes. Common areas where lymph nodes can be easily felt, especially if they are enlarged, are: the groin, armpits (axilla), above the clavicle (supraclavicular), in the neck (cervical), and the back of the head just above hairline (occipital).

    Lymphatic system

    illustration

  • Immune system structures

    Immune system structures - illustration

    The immune system protects the body from potentially harmful substances. The inflammatory response (inflammation) is part of innate immunity. It occurs when tissues are injured by bacteria, trauma, toxins, heat or any other cause.

    Immune system structures

    illustration

    • Lymphatic system

      Lymphatic system - illustration

      The lymphatic system filters fluid from around cells. It is an important part of the immune system. When people refer to swollen glands in the neck, they are usually referring to swollen lymph nodes. Common areas where lymph nodes can be easily felt, especially if they are enlarged, are: the groin, armpits (axilla), above the clavicle (supraclavicular), in the neck (cervical), and the back of the head just above hairline (occipital).

      Lymphatic system

      illustration

    • Immune system structures

      Immune system structures - illustration

      The immune system protects the body from potentially harmful substances. The inflammatory response (inflammation) is part of innate immunity. It occurs when tissues are injured by bacteria, trauma, toxins, heat or any other cause.

      Immune system structures

      illustration

    Tests for Lymphadenitis

     

       

      Review Date: 5/1/2015

      Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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