Swollen lymph nodes – Overview
An outcome of infection from bacteria or viruses is occurred usually from swollen lymph nodes. Swollen lymph nodes are rarely caused by cancer.
Your lymph nodes also known as lymph glands play an important role in the body’s ability to fight off infections. Before infecting other parts of the body, they function as filters, trapping viruses, bacteria and other causes of illnesses. Swollen lymph nodes might be noticed in common areas which include the neck, under the chin, in armpits and in groin.
The passage of time and warm compresses may be all that is required to treat swollen lymph nodes in some cases. If swollen lymph nodes is caused by infection, treatment depends on the cause.
A network of organs, vessels and lymph nodes situated throughout the body is called the lymphatic system. Location of many lymph nodes is in the head and neck region. Lymph nodes that swell mostly are in this area, as well as in the armpits and groin area.
A sign that something is wrong somewhere in the body is of swollen lymph nodes. When the lymph nodes first swell, below might be noticed:
- Tenderness and pain in the lymph nodes
- Swelling of the size of a pea or kidney bean, or even larger in the lymph nodes
Other signs and symptoms may depend on the cause of swollen lymph nodes and may include:
- Runny nose, sore throat, fever and other indications of an upper respiratory infection
- General swelling of lymph nodes throughout the body. When this occurs, an infection may be indicated, such as HIV or mononucleosis, or an immune system disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- Hard, fixed, rapidly growing nodes, indicating a possible cancer or lymphoma
- Night sweats
When to see a doctor
When the underlying condition, such as a minor infection, gets better some swollen lymph nodes may return to normal. Doctor should be consulted if concerned or if swollen lymph nodes:
- Appeared for no apparent reason
- Continuing to enlarge or having been present for two to four weeks
- Feel hard or rubbery, or don’t move when pushing on them
- Accompanied by continuous fever, night sweats or unexplained weight loss
Medical care should be sought immediately if having difficulty in swallowing or breathing.
Shape of lymph nodes is small, round or bean-shaped clusters of cells. A combination of different types of immune system cells are inside lymph nodes. These immune system cells are specialized cells that filter lymphatic fluid as it travels through the body and protects by destroying invaders.
Location of lymph nodes is in groups, and each group drains a specific area of the body. Swelling in certain areas is likely to be noticed, such as in the lymph nodes in the neck, under the chin, in the armpits and in the groin. The area of the swollen lymph nodes may help in the identification of the underlying cause.
An infection is most common cause of swollen lymph nodes, particularly a viral infection, such as the common cold. Other possible causes of swollen lymph nodes may include:
Common infections such as:
- Strep throat
- Ear infections
- Infected (abscessed) tooth
- Skin or wound infections, such as cellulitis
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS
Uncommon infections such as:
- Certain sexually transmitted infections, such as syphilis
- Toxoplasmosis which is a parasitic infection resulting from contact with the feces of an infected cat or eating undercooked meat
- Cat scratch fever which is a bacterial infection from a cat scratch or bite
Immune system disorders such as:
- Lupus which is a chronic inflammatory disease that targets the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, heart and lungs
- Rheumatoid arthritis which is a chronic inflammatory disease targeting the tissue that lines the joints (synovium)
Cancers such as:
- Lymphoma is a cancer that originates in the lymphatic system
- Leukemia is the cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissue, including bone marrow and lymphatic system
- Other cancers that have spread (metastasized) to lymph nodes
The anti-seizure medication phenytoin (Dilantin) and preventive medications for malaria are other rare causes
If cause of the swollen lymph nodes is infection and it isn’t treated, an abscess may form. Localized collections of pus caused by infections are called abscesses. Pus has fluid, white blood cells, dead tissue, and bacteria or other invaders. Drainage and antibiotic treatment may be needed in abscess.
The doctor might need below information in order to diagnose what might be causing swollen lymph nodes:
- Doctor will want to know about the medical history when and how the swollen lymph nodes developed and if having any other signs or symptoms.
- A physical examination will be conducted by the doctor to check lymph nodes near the surface of the skin for size, tenderness, warmth and texture. The area of the swollen lymph nodes and other signs and symptoms will give clues to the underlying cause.
- To help confirm or exclude any suspected underlying conditions, certain blood tests may be conducted. The specific tests are most likely to include a complete blood count (CBC) and will depend on the suspected cause. This test helps to examine the overall health and detect a range of disorders, including infections and leukemia.
- To help in determining the potential sources of infection or find tumors, a chest X-ray or computerized tomography (CT) scan of the affected area may be done.
- A biopsy may be undergone by the doctor to secure the diagnosis. A sample from a lymph node will be removed or even an entire lymph node for microscopic examination.
Swollen lymph nodes caused by a virus generally gets back to normal after the viral infection resolves. To treat viral infections, antibiotics are not useful. Depending on the cause the treatment for swollen lymph nodes from other causes may differ:
- Antibiotics are the most common treatment for swollen lymph nodes that is caused by a bacterial infection. If the swollen lymph nodes are because of an HIV infection, specific treatment for that condition will be received.
- Certain conditions, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, are the resultant of swollen lymph nodes then the treatment is directed at the underlying condition.
- Treatment for the cancer may be required for swollen nodes which are caused by cancer. Treatment may involve surgery, radiation or chemotherapy depending on the kind of cancer.
Lifestyle and home remedies
If swollen lymph nodes are tender or painful, you might get some relief might come by doing the following:
- A warm, wet compress should be applied, such as a washcloth dipped in hot water and wrung out, to the affected area.
- Over-the-counter pain reliever should be taken which include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), naproxen (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others). When giving aspirin to children or teenagers cation should be taken. Aspirin for use in children older than age 2 is approved; children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. If having concerns, the doctor should be consulted.
- To aid the recovery from the underlying condition rest is often required.
Preparing for appointment
It is likely to start by first seeing the family doctor if having swollen lymph nodes. When setting up appointment, immediate medical care may be sought if experiencing severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing or swallowing.
Below information provided may help in getting ready for the appointment.
- At the time of scheduling the appointment, ask if anything is needed to be done in advance.
- The doctor will want to know about other symptoms if having flu-like symptoms, such as a fever or sore throat, and may inquire whether any changes have been noticed in the weight. Every symptom, from mild to severe should be listed, that has been noticed since lymph nodes began to swell.
- A list of all recent exposures to possible sources of infection should be made as these may include travel abroad, hiking in areas known to have ticks, eating undercooked meat, being scratched by a cat or engaging in high-risk sexual behavior or sex with a new partner.
- A list of key medical information should be made including other conditions that are being treated for and the names of the medications that are being taken. Every prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drug being used should be included, as well as any vitamins and supplements.
- List questions to ask the doctor.
A number of questions is likely to be asked by the doctor, such as:
- What are the symptoms?
- Beginning to experience symptoms?
- Affected lymph nodes gotten larger over the period of time?
- Affected lymph nodes are tender or not?
- Fever or night sweats being experienced?
- Weight loss without trying?
- Having a sore throat or difficulty swallowing?
- Experiencing any difficulty in breathing?
- Bowel habits being changed?
- Medications currently being taken?
- Recently travel history to another country or to tick-inhabited regions? Anyone who traveled with you got sick?
- Recently been exposed to new animals? Were bitten or scratched?
- Recently had sex with a new partner?
- Practice of safe sex? Have you done so since you became sexually active?
- Smoking and for how long?
While waiting for the appointment, if the swollen nodes are being painful, discomfort may be eased by using warm compresses and an OTC pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).