Swollen lymph nodes

Swollen lymph nodes usually occur as a result of exposure to bacteria or viruses. When swollen lymph nodes are caused by an infection, this is known as lymphadenitis (lim-fad-uh-NIE-tis). Rarely, swollen lymph nodes are caused by cancer.

Your lymph nodes, also called lymph glands, play a vital role in your body's ability to fight off viruses, bacteria and other causes of illnesses. Common areas where you might notice swollen lymph nodes include your neck, under your chin, in your armpits and in your groin.

In some cases, the passage of time and warm compresses may be all you need to treat swollen lymph nodes. Treatment for lymphadenitis depends on the cause.

Symptoms Causes Complications

Your lymphatic system comprises a network of organs, vessels and numerous lymph nodes situated throughout your body. Most of your lymph nodes are located in your head and neck region. Lymph nodes that frequently swell are in this area, as well as in your armpits and groin area.

Swollen lymph nodes are a sign that something is wrong somewhere in your body. When your lymph nodes first swell, you might notice:

  • Tender and painful lymph nodes
  • Swollen lymph nodes that may be the size of a pea or kidney bean, or even larger

Depending on the cause of your swollen lymph nodes, other signs and symptoms you might have include:

  • Runny nose, sore throat, fever and other indications of an upper respiratory infection
  • General swelling of lymph nodes throughout your body — which may indicate an infection, such as HIV or mononucleosis, or an immune disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Swollen limb, possibly indicating lymph system blockage caused by swelling in a lymph node too far under your skin to feel
  • Hardened, fixed, rapidly growing nodes, indicating a possible tumor
  • Fever
  • Night sweats

When to see a doctor

Some swollen lymph nodes return to normal when the underlying condition, such as a minor infection, resolves. However, see your doctor if you're concerned or if your swollen lymph nodes:

  • Have appeared for no apparent reason
  • Continue to enlarge or have been present for two to four weeks
  • Feel hard or rubbery, or don't move when you push on them
  • Are accompanied by persistent fever, night sweats or unexplained weight loss
  • Are accompanied by a sore throat or by difficulty swallowing or breathing

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