Swollen Lymph Nodes


Last Updated December 20th, 2021

What is the lymphatic system?

The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs. They rid the body of waste, toxins, and disease-causing bacteria. The main function of the lymphatic system is to carry lymph (liquid containing white blood cells) through the body. These white blood cells help fight infection. Therefore, the lymphatic system functions as a military transport. The lymph nodes act like military checkpoints. The nodes stop bacteria and abnormal or diseased cells as they pass through it.

The lymphatic system has lymphatic vessels, which are similar to the blood vessels like veins and arteries. The vessels lead to nodes (lymph nodes) which filter the lymph. This means that whenever there is an infection or a tumor, the lymph nodes will swell. This happens because of accumulated debris, such as bacteria and dead or diseased cells. The swelling of lymph nodes is called lymphadenopathy. It can be localized (when it affects a particular area) or generalized (when it affects lymph nodes throughout the body).

Tonsils, adenoids, spleen, and thymus are all part of the lymphatic system.

What are the lymph nodes?

There are hundreds of lymph nodes spread throughout the body. They act as the checkpoints for disease control in the body. They can be found under the skin in areas such as:

  • On either side of the neck
  • Under the jaw
  • Above the collarbone
  • In the armpits
  • On either side of the groin

They can also be found inside the body. They are in such cases located around an organ such as the heart or the lungs.

A swelling of the lymph node points generally to an infection in the area where they are located. For example, if the lymph nodes in the neck swell up, then it points to an infection of the upper respiratory tract, such as the common cold.

Causes of Swollen Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes get swollen when the body is fighting stress, illness, or infection. It is an indication that something is wrong and that your immune system is active and trying to fight off the disease. Once the immune system has fought back the illness, the lymph nodes will shrink back down to their original size.

Lymph nodes in the head and neck swell due to diseases such as:

Ear infection

An ear infection happens when fluid builds up in the ears due to common cold, sinusitis etc. An ear infection can cause the lymph nodes in front and back of the ears to swell. You might also have ear pain.

The cold or flu

The common cold virus can cause the lymph nodes in the neck to swell, since the common cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract.

Sinus infection

A sinus infection is another case of the lymph nodes in the neck swelling up. It is therefore difficult to distinguish it from a common cold based on this symptom alone.

Infected tooth

A buildup of pus due to a tooth infection caused by bacteria leads to a tooth abscess. This will affect nearby lymph nodes. Other symptoms are mouth pain, jaw pain, swollen gums, and foul-smelling breath.

Strep throat

Strep throat is named after the streptococci A bacteria. They cause strep throat, a bacterial infection that causes inflammation and pain in your throat. Strep throat can sometimes cause generalized lymphadenopathy.

Skin infection

Infection of the skin and scalp can spread to the lymph nodes around your ears (preauricular lymph nodes). They will become red and swollen, and you might develop an abscess.

Syphilis or Gonorrhea

Sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea can cause the lymph nodes in the groin area to swell.

More serious health conditions can also cause the lymph nodes throughout the body to swell. Immune system disorders like HIV infections and cancers can cause swollen lymph nodes.

Cancers spread through the body, causing lymph nodes to swell. As more number of lymph nodes gets affected, the survival rate decreases. Sometimes cancers begin with the swelling of the lymph nodes. Lymphoma, a cancer affecting the lymphatic system is one of them.

Certain medications when taken can cause the lymph nodes to swell. Allergic reactions to medications can also cause the lymph nodes to swell. Anti-seizure and antimalarial drugs can also cause the lymph nodes to swell.

Other causes of swollen lymph nodes are the following:

Cat scratch fever

Cat scratch fever is an infectious disease caused by the scratch or bite of a cat. The symptoms show up 3–14 days after the scratch/bite. The infected area may be swollen and red, with round, raised lesions and pus formation. Later the person’s lymph nodes close to the area of the scratch may become swollen and painful to touch.

Hodgkin’s disease

It is a type of lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system). It causes enlarged lymph nodes in the armpits, neck, and the groin. Other symptoms are fatigue, fever, and chills.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

It includes all types of lymphoma except Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Symptoms are enlarged lymph nodes, fever, night sweats, tiredness, and weight loss.

Leukemia

A type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow

Mouth sores

These are sores that develop in the mouth. Triggers include hypersensitivity, stress, and shortage of vitamins.

Tonsillitis

It is an inflammation of the tonsils, two pads of tissue located on the backside of the throat.

Toxoplasmosis

Infection caused by Toxoplasma gondii. Toxoplasma gondii is one of the world’s most common parasites. Symptoms include muscle pain, fever, and headache, which can last for weeks.

Tuberculosis

It is an infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Other symptoms include coughing that lasts weeks with chest pain, coughing up blood, fatigue, fever, and night sweats.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is a common type of periodontal disease. It involves red and swollen gums.

Measles

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by the measles virus. It takes 10-12 days to develop after exposure and lasts a little more than a week. Other symptoms are dry cough, fever, runny nose, sore throat, and inflamed eyes.

Sézary syndrome

It is a type of cutaneous (skin) lymphoma first described by Albert Sezary. Symptoms are itchy, reddish scaly rash that looks like it has undergone severe sunburn.

Shingles

Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash with blisters.

Detection of swollen lymph nodes

A swollen lymph node can be small (about the size of a pea) or as big as a cherry. They either hurt to the touch or cause pain when you move the affected part of the body. For example, swollen lymph nodes in your neck will cause pain when you are chewing food or when you turn your neck in a certain way. Swollen lymph nodes in your groin will cause pain when walking or bending. The symptoms that are present sometimes with swollen lymph nodes include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Runny nose
  • Chills
  • Sweating

If you notice any of these symptoms along with swollen lymph nodes, then you may need to consult a doctor. If the lymph nodes are hard to the touch, then you may have cancer.

In some cases, as the disease abates, the lymph node will slowly shrink back down to its normal size.

At the doctor’s office

When you visit the doctor, let him/her know of the symptoms other than the swollen nodes. This will help the doctor arrive at the right diagnosis.

The doctor may ask about your medical history to understand your condition better. He/she may order further tests to isolate certain medical conditions.

He/she may also conduct a physical exam where he/she may examine the nodes more closely. In the rare case that he suspects cancer, he might order further tests. One such test is the lymph node biopsy. In this test, a sample of cells is scraped gently off the lymph node. This sample is then observed closely to detect the possibility of cancer.

A blood test may be done to check for hormonal disorders. This is particularly the case if you have mouth sores.

It is possible that the doctor will remove the entire lymph node for testing.

Treatment for swollen lymph nodes

CHRONIC LYMPHOCYTIC LEUKEMIA WBCsSometimes no treatment is necessary for a swollen lymph node. They will shrink and return to their normal size as the body overcomes the disease. In some cases, the doctor will monitor them without any treatment.

In the case of infections, you will be prescribed antibiotics and antiviral medications to treat them. You will also be given pain relievers like ibuprofen to reduce the pain and inflammation because of the swollen lymph nodes.

Cancer therapy involves removing the affected lymph node or shrinking it down to normal size. The doctor will discuss with you and advise which is better for you.

Prevention of swollen lymph nodes

Following healthy habits is necessary to prevent swollen lymph nodes. Avoid risky sexual behavior, drugs and obvious causes of bacterial infection. However, swollen lymph nodes can occur at any time because of there being so many causes for them.

Takeaway

A condition of swollen lymph nodes is your body’s way of telling you that an underlying medical condition might be responsible, and treatment may be necessary. Often a swollen lymph node is not malignant. However, in cases where they are rubbery and do not shrink with time, you may need to seek treatment. A word of caution, keep track of the symptoms you have in addition to the lymph nodes. Approach the doctor if you suspect an underlying medical condition that may require treatment.

Facts

  • Each of them being the size of a pea, there are hundreds of lymph nodes spread throughout the body.

Facts

  • You are the pump for your lymphatic system. Unlike the circulatory system, which relies on the heart to do the pumping of blood, the lymphatic system moves its fluid using gravity and pressure.

Facts

  • The vast majority of cases of swollen lymph nodes in children are infectious or benign in nature but not malignant.

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Dos and Don'ts

Dos
  • Apply a wet, warm compress to the affected area.
  • Take over the counter pain medications
  • Get adequate rest
  • Avoid causes of bacterial infection
Don'ts
  • Postpone treatment if lymph nodes do not reduce in size over weeks or are painful.
  • Indulge in risky sexual behavior.

 

 

 

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Experts reveal the safest ways to perform an enema at home The idea of pushing some up your rectal area might make you queasy but an enema could actually…
Balneotherapy jacuzzi
5 things you didn’t know about balneotherapy and how you can do it at home Sauna baths have been popular since a long time. But how much more beneficial can balneotherapy be as…
Anti-CCP Test – Anti-Cyclic Citrullinated Peptide Anti-ccp or ACCP test is a blood test that is primarily employed to diagnose the onset of rheumatoid…
cardioliin antibody iga
Cardiolipin Antibody (ACL) – IgA test Cardiolipins are phospholipids that are constituents of the platelets and the cell membranes. The IgA test detects the…
complement c4 test
Anemia Profile Anemia Profile test (Basic) is a blood screening test that measures the levels of important components of the…
shiitake mushrooms healthy
What are Shiitake Mushrooms and why should you eat them? Shiitake Mushrooms are well known for their smoky and robust taste. However, did you know they are replete…
pilonidal sinus
Pilonidal sinus Pilonidal sinus is more common in young men than women. Learn about treatment options, surgical management, risks, and…
improve digestion weight loss
Power up your gut: 8 proven steps on how to improve your digestion Did you know you have a colony of bacteria in your gut that help you in digesting food?…
low fodmap plan
Troubled with IBS? Here’s a complete roadmap to the low FODMAP diet Leaky & inflammatory gut troubling you? No medicine bringing you relief from the pain? Why not try the…
Kava: Is it the healthy substitute for alcohol you have been waiting for? Native to the beautiful South Pacific islands, Kava is a famous beverage rooted in the local culture. It…
Psyllium Husk: More than just an effective natural laxative Psyllium husk, or isabgol, is a popular natural laxative . But did you in addition to regulating bowels,…
Find all the instant ways to get rid of blackheads Blackheads - Not only are they aesthetically unappealing but if left untreated these can cause bacterial overgrowth on…
Coffee Enema: Turn your favorite morning beverage into a powerful colon cleanser The wonders of coffee are not just limited to waking you up every morning. You can now use…
Ear pain model
Easy and safe tips for ear wax removal you can do at home Cerumen impaction generally occurs when an external object like cotton swabs are used to remove the ear wax.…
Atkins diet weight loss
Atkins Diet: The right steps to carb control that can help you lose those pounds fast The Atkins diet is a high fat, low-carb diet with proven weight loss benefits that is flexible enough…
CBC blood test
CBC (Hemogram 6-part diff) blood test CBC (Hemogram 6-part diff) blood test refers to the test that measures the number of RBCs, WBCs, etc…
Chest X-Ray A chest x-ray is a diagnostic test that uses x-rays to visualize the structures inside your chest. It…
blood elements analysis
Blood Element Analysis Test A blood element analysis is a blood test performed to measure the level of toxic elements such as…
PROGESTERONE_test
Progesterone test The progesterone test is a blood test used to determine the level of hormone progesterone in the blood…
iron deficiency profile
Iron Deficiency Profile An iron deficiency profile is a battery of blood tests which are performed in order to determine the…
Okra: How can this nutrient-dense vegetable help you fight diabetes? Okra is a food which is rich in nutrients and minerals which are extremely essential for a healthy…
dance health benefits
5 unbelievable effects of dance on your overall health! You enjoy dancing, but did you know what else it does to your body? Dancing is not only…
Jack in the box fast food
Jack In the Box : The perils of surging fast food culture in the USA Jack in the Box - How a culture of fast-food can clog your arteries, weaken your heart, fatten…
black seed oil benefits
Black Seed Oil: What secret benefits could it bestow on your health? Black seeds or nigella seeds are tiny packets of health brimming with amazing benefits. Find out why should…
Oil of Oregano: The one-stop essential oil you’ve been looking for Are you plagued by a weak immune system? High body inflammation accompanied by pain and infections? Why not…
Epley maneuver: Why is this the best protection from the symptoms of vertigo? Epley maneuver is an exercise that can treat the symptoms of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).  It was…
Tart Cherry: The healthiest excuse for taking that second serving of pie Tart cherry has been traditionally used in delectable desserts such as pies. Recent studies have revealed that its…
Hydroquinone: Is it the best topical treatment for hyperpigmentation? Darkening of the skin due to high melanin levels is called hyperpigmentation.  Hydroquinone interferes with melanin production thus treating…
Inversion Therapy: The anti-gravity way of healing chronic back pain Inversion therapy involves suspending a person upside dow using different types of equipment. This works by taking the…
The Cabbage Soup Diet: The healthiest way to instant weight loss Cabbage soup diet rapid weight loss diet for those who want to shed those extra pounds in less…
reflexology massage
Top reasons why you should go for a reflexology massage today Reflexology involves the application of pressure to your feet and hands to encourage self-healing. Could this be beneficial…
Bone marrow aspiration Bone marrow aspiration is a process where a sample of the bone marrow is withdrawn from the bone…
C-Reactive Protein Test A CRP or c-reactive protein blood test is an important diagnostic tool used to determine the risk of…
HSV-1_IGG
Herpes Simplex Virus I (HSV)-IgG Test Herpes simplex virus I(HSV)-IgG is an Immunoglobulin protein that acts as an antibody & stays in the blood…
malarial antigen test
Malaria Antigen Test A malaria antigen test is a rapid diagnostic test (RDT) that can detect malarial antigens (proteins) in your…
lipase test
Lipase Test A lipase test is a blood test performed to quantitatively measure the level of the enzyme lipase in…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
Sushi: health benefits and recipes Sushi is a traditional Japanese dish prepared with vinegared rice served with fish (often raw), vegetables, and other…
hidden benefits walking
9 benefits of walking we bet you didn’t know! Did you know walking can be the miracle pill for eternal youth? Everyone knows walking is good for…