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Alternative names:  Swollen lymph glands, Lymphadenopathy,  Swollen glands,  Swollen nodes

Swollen Lymph Nodes

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Lymph nodes are small bean shaped glands that are present throughout the body and they are significant to the immune system. Normally, neither the nodes can be felt (except for those present in neck, armpit, behind ears and in the groin region) nor do they pain. They swell and enlarge under different circumstances, most commonly due to infections

Function of Lymph nodes

Lymph nodes filter the lymph to make it free from dead cells, cellular waste, etc. The nodes are a storehouse of lymphocytes or white blood cells (B – cells and T-cells) that form the main immune organs of the body.

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Symptoms associated swollen lymph nodes

Swelling of lymph nodes is itself a symptom and you can sense it in specific parts of your body.  There’s substantial pain and tenderness associated with the swollen lymph glands.

Depending upon the reason behind the swelling, other symptoms are:

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Causes of swollen lymph nodes

Lymph nodes can swell in one or more areas in the same time and it’s a symbol that the glands are fighting an infection.

The reasons are:

  • Injury in the area near the lymph gland
  • Broad range of bacterial, viral and fungal infections which include: Respiratory tract infections, influenza, common cold, chicken pox, herpes, measles, mumps, HIV, adenovirus, tuberculosis, syphilis, STDs, mouth sores, tonsillitis, tooth abscess, skin infections, etc.
  • Autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
  • Cancers: Leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, testicular cancer, lung cancer, etc.
  • Typhoid immunization vaccine, seizure medications

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Diagnosis of swollen lymph nodes

  • Physical examination: Doctors enquire about medical history, evaluate the symptoms, and check the glands for size, intensity of swelling and how do they feel in general. He may then suggest the following tests for in-depth diagnosis.
  • Medical Tests: Blood tests (CBC) for detecting infections, CT scan, chest x –ray, liver and kidney function test, and liver spleen scan.
  • Lymph node biopsy – a tissue sample is taken from the lymph node to diagnose for cancers and infections like tuberculosis

Treatment of swollen lymph nodes

There’s no treatment as such specific for the swollen nodes, nonetheless painkillers may be prescribed to alleviate the pain.

Infections are treated with medication and the swelling goes away automatically with it. In this regard antibiotics are mostly given by doctors.

The treatment is directed towards treating the autoimmune disorders and so is with cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are some options for treating cancer.

When to see a doctor?

You must see your doctor if you sense pain and swelling in those regions where presence of lymph nodes can be felt. Any of those symptoms if persist for more than 2-3 days need doctor’s check up.

Your medical visits will continue until your doctor assures that you have recovered.

Health complications of swollen lymph nodes

As said before you should never neglect the symptoms because you never know what the underlying reason could be. Delay in treatment might spread the infection in the blood, giving rise to a fatal disease- bacteremia (sepsis). The infection can easily support formation of abscess inside the body and thereby making the treatment much more complicated.

If you have a hidden cancer, then delay in treatment can make recovery impossible.

The swelling definitely takes one week to several weeks to disappear; quite obviously depending on the cause. In the meanwhile you can protect yourself from cold and restrict from eating spicy food, cold drinks, ice creams, etc.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: January 11, 2015

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