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Mesenteric lymphadenitis

Lymphadenitis is a condition in which your lymph nodes — tissues that help your body fight off illness — become inflamed. Mesenteric lymphadenitis (mez-un-TER-ik lim-fad-uh-NIE-tis) is an inflammation of the lymph nodes in the membrane that attaches your intestine (bowel) to your abdominal wall (mesentery). Mesenteric lymphadenitis usually results from an intestinal infection.

The mesentery connects the bowel to the abdominal cavity. It also limits the movement of the intestines in the abdominal cavity. If not for the mesentery, the bowel likely would more frequently twist upon itself, causing obstruction.

Mesenteric lymphadenitis often mimics the signs and symptoms of appendicitis. Unlike appendicitis, however, mesenteric lymphadenitis is seldom serious and clears on its own.

Symptoms Causes Complications

Signs and symptoms of mesenteric lymphadenitis may include:

  • Abdominal pain, often centered on the lower, right side, but the pain can sometimes be more widespread
  • General abdominal tenderness
  • Fever

Depending on what's causing the ailment, other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • General feeling of being unwell (malaise)

In some cases, swollen lymph nodes are found on imaging tests for another problem. Mesenteric lymphadenitis that doesn't cause symptoms may need further evaluation.

When to see a doctor

Abdominal pain is common in children and teens, and it can be hard to know when it's a problem that needs medical attention.

In general, call your doctor right away if your child has episodes of:

  • Sudden, severe abdominal pain
  • Abdominal pain with fever
  • Abdominal pain with diarrhea or vomiting

In addition, call your doctor if your child has episodes of the following signs and symptoms that don't get better over a short time:

  • Abdominal pain with a change in bowel habits
  • Abdominal pain with loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Abdominal pain that interferes with sleep

Your lymph nodes play a vital role in your body's ability to fight off illness. They're scattered throughout your body to trap and destroy viruses, bacteria and other harmful organisms. In the process, the nodes closest to the infection can become sore and swollen — for instance, the lymph nodes in your neck may swell when you have a sore throat. Other nodes that commonly swell are located under your chin and in your armpits and groin.

Although less well known, you also have lymph nodes in the mesentery — the thin tissue that attaches your intestine to the back of your abdominal wall. The most common cause of swollen mesenteric nodes is a viral infection, such as gastroenteritis — commonly but incorrectly known as stomach flu.

Some children develop an upper respiratory infection before or during a bout of mesenteric lymphadenitis, and experts speculate that there may be a link between the two.

Mesenteric lymphadenitis usually goes away on its own and rarely causes complications. But if swollen lymph nodes are caused by a serious bacterial infection that isn't treated, the bacteria could spread to your bloodstream, causing a potentially life-threatening infection (sepsis).

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