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Swollen lymph nodes

Swollen glands; Glands - swollen; Lymph nodes - swollen; Lymphadenopathy

 

Lymph nodes are present throughout your body. They are an important part of your immune system. Lymph nodes help your body recognize and fight germs, infections, and other foreign substances.

The term "swollen glands" refers to enlargement of one or more lymph nodes. The medical name for swollen lymph nodes is lymphadenopathy.

In a child, a node is considered enlarged if it is more than 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) wide.

Considerations

 

Common areas where the lymph nodes can be felt (with the fingers) include:

  • Groin
  • Armpit
  • Neck (there is a chain of lymph nodes on either side of the front of the neck, both sides of the neck, and down each side of the back of the neck)
  • Under the jaw and chin
  • Behind the ears
  • On the back of the head

 

Causes

 

Infections are the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes. Infections that can cause them include:

  • Abscessed or impacted tooth
  • Ear infection
  • Colds, flu, and other infections
  • Swelling (inflammation) of gums (gingivitis)
  • Mononucleosis
  • Mouth sores
  • Sexually transmitted illness (STI)
  • Tonsillitis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Skin infections

Immune or autoimmune disorders that can cause swollen lymph nodes are:

  • HIV
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Cancers that can cause swollen lymph nodes include:

  • Leukemia
  • Hodgkin disease
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Many other cancers may also cause this problem.

Certain medicines can cause swollen lymph nodes, including:

  • Seizure medicines such as phenytoin
  • Typhoid immunization

Which lymph nodes are swollen depends on the cause and the body parts involved. Swollen lymph nodes that appear suddenly and are painful are usually due to injury or infection. Slow, painless swelling may be due to cancer or a tumor.

 

Home Care

 

Painful lymph nodes are generally a sign that your body is fighting an infection. The soreness usually goes away in a couple of days, without treatment. The lymph node may not return to its normal size for several weeks.

 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

 

Call your health care provider if:

  • Your lymph nodes do not get smaller after several weeks or they continue to get larger.
  • They are red and tender.
  • They feel hard, irregular, or fixed in place.
  • You have fever, night sweats, or unexplained weight loss.
  • Any node in a child is larger than 1 centimeter (a little less than half inch) in diameter.

 

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

 

Your provider will perform a physical examination and ask about your medical history and symptoms. Examples of questions that may be asked include:

  • When the swelling began
  • If the swelling came on suddenly
  • Whether any nodes are painful when pressed.

The following tests may be done:

  • Blood tests, including liver function tests, kidney function tests, and CBC with differential
  • Lymph node biopsy
  • Chest x-ray
  • Liver-spleen scan

Treatment depends on the cause of the swollen nodes.

 

 

References

Armitage JO. Approach to the patient with lymphadenopathy and splenomegaly. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 168.

Tower RL, Camitta BM. Lymphadenopathy. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 490.

 
  • 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

  • Infectious mononucleosis

    Infectious mononucleosis - illustration

    Swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, fatigue and headache are some of the symptoms of mononucleosis, which is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. It is generally self-limiting and most patients can recover in 4 to 6 weeks without medications.

    Infectious mononucleosis

    illustration

  • Circulation of lymph

    Circulation of lymph - illustration

    The lymphatic system is a complex system of fluid drainage and transport, and immune response and disease resistance. Fluid that is forced out of the bloodstream during normal circulation is filtered through lymph nodes to remove bacteria, abnormal cells and other matter. This fluid is then transported back into the bloodstream via the lymph vessels. Lymph only moves in one direction, toward the heart.

    Circulation of lymph

    illustration

  • Lymphatic system

    Lymphatic system - illustration

    Lymph nodes produce immune cells to help fight infection. They also filter the lymph fluid and remove foreign material, such as bacteria and cancer cells. They can become swollen from inflammatory conditions, an abscess, cancer, and most commonly from infection. Common areas where lymph nodes can be felt include the groin, armpit, behind the ears, back of the head, sides of the neck and under the jaw and chin.

    Lymphatic system

    illustration

  • Swollen glands

    Swollen glands - illustration

    Lymph nodes play an important part in the body's defense against infection. Swelling might occur even if the infection is trivial or not apparent. Swelling of lymph nodes generally results from localized or systemic infection, abscess formation, or malignancy.

    Swollen glands

    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

    • Infectious mononucleosis

      Infectious mononucleosis - illustration

      Swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, fatigue and headache are some of the symptoms of mononucleosis, which is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. It is generally self-limiting and most patients can recover in 4 to 6 weeks without medications.

      Infectious mononucleosis

      illustration

    • Circulation of lymph

      Circulation of lymph - illustration

      The lymphatic system is a complex system of fluid drainage and transport, and immune response and disease resistance. Fluid that is forced out of the bloodstream during normal circulation is filtered through lymph nodes to remove bacteria, abnormal cells and other matter. This fluid is then transported back into the bloodstream via the lymph vessels. Lymph only moves in one direction, toward the heart.

      Circulation of lymph

      illustration

    • Lymphatic system

      Lymphatic system - illustration

      Lymph nodes produce immune cells to help fight infection. They also filter the lymph fluid and remove foreign material, such as bacteria and cancer cells. They can become swollen from inflammatory conditions, an abscess, cancer, and most commonly from infection. Common areas where lymph nodes can be felt include the groin, armpit, behind the ears, back of the head, sides of the neck and under the jaw and chin.

      Lymphatic system

      illustration

    • Swollen glands

      Swollen glands - illustration

      Lymph nodes play an important part in the body's defense against infection. Swelling might occur even if the infection is trivial or not apparent. Swelling of lymph nodes generally results from localized or systemic infection, abscess formation, or malignancy.

      Swollen glands

      illustration

    A Closer Look

     

      Talking to your MD

       

        Self Care

         

          Tests for Swollen lymph nodes

           

           

          Review Date: 1/10/2016

          Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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