Lymph nodes are round, bean-shaped structures found as clusters in various parts of the body neck, armpit, groin and inside the chest and abdomen. They serve as a site for filtration of lymph fluid containing foreign particles and infectious agents such as viruses and bacteria, entering the body. Lymph nodes are also sites where immune cells are present in large numbers to fight these antigens.
When the lymph nodes are full of infectious agents with active immune cells fighting against them, lymph nodes may become swollen and painful. They become enlarged and sore. Although the soreness may go away in a couple days, without treatment, it might take up to several weeks to return to its normal size. When swollen, inflamed or enlarged, lymph nodes can be hard, firm or tender.
Common reasons for swollen lymph nodes
Swollen lymph nodes can be caused by infections such as
Inflammation of tonsils, soft glands similar to lymph nodes, can give you an idea of enlarged lymph nodes caused due to infection. However, at times, they could even indicate something more serious. Here are a few such reasons you shouldn t ignore enlarged lymph nodes:
#1 HIV infection
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection gradually destroys the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight infections. It can be spread through sexual contact, through blood transfusions or needle sharing, and from a pregnant mother to her foetus.
Symptoms One of the symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis is swollen or tender lymph nodes in the neck or other areas. Although it doesn t show any symptoms initially, later stages are characterized by a cough (usually with mucus and coughing up blood), excessive sweating at night, fatigue, fever and weight loss.
Lymph node tuberculosis, also known as tuberculous lymphadenitis, usually affects nodes in the neck, but swelling can occur in nodes throughout the body. Over time, swollen nodes can release fluid through the skin.
Symptoms Patients usually experience painless swelling in one or more lymph nodes of weeks to months duration. Some patients, especially those with extensive disease or a co-existing disease, may have systemic symptoms i.e. fever, weight loss, fatigue and night sweats. A distressing cough may be a prominent symptom in mediastinal lymphadenitis, says Dr P R Gupta, Professor of Chest & TB, SMS Medical College, Jaipur, in his review article Difficulties in managing lymph node tuberculosis .
Treatment The treatment normally depends on the type of bacterial infection. Some infections may need surgical excision. For example, nontuberculous mycobacterium (NTM) responds well to surgery but Mycobacterium tuberculosis is treated with antibiotics.
Mononucleosis is a viral infection. It is more common in older teenagers and young adults.
Symptoms In addition to a severe sore throat and fatigue, symptoms often include weakness, aches, dizziness, enlarged spleen and swollen glands in the neck.
Treatment There's no specific therapy available to treat infectious mononucleosis. Antibiotics don't work against such viral infections. So, treatment mainly involves bed rest and drinking plenty of fluids, according to Mayo Clinic experts. Secondary infections such as a strep infection or tonsillitis are however treated with antibiotics or corticosteroids.
#5 Hodgkin s lymphoma
Cancer of the lymph tissue in the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, bone marrow, and other sites, is called Hodgkin s lymphoma. It is one of the most curable cancers, especially if it is detected early. Here's everything you need to know about cancer.
Symptoms The first sign of Hodgkin's lymphoma is often a painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin that appears without a known cause. The disease can spread to nearby lymph nodes. Later it may spread to the spleen, liver, bone marrow or other organs. Other symptoms include fatigue, fever and chills that come and go, itching all over the body that cannot be explained, loss of appetite, night sweats and unexplained weight loss.
Treatment Treatment involves chemotherapy or radiotherapy or both. In some cases, stem cell transplant has to be done.
Symptoms Apart from the swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin and other symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma, this cancer also shows signs and symptoms of coughing or shortness of breath, abdominal pain or swelling, headache, concentration problems, personality changes, or even seizures if the brain is affected.
Treatment Treatment involves chemotherapy or radiotherapy or both or no treatment at all. In some cases, stem cell transplant has to be done. Blood transfusions or platelet transfusions may be required if blood count is low.
Symptoms Signs and symptoms include painless swollen lymph nodes in the neck or armpit and fever or night sweats. Also, frequent infections, fatigue, easy bruising, swelling or discomfort in the abdomen, unexplained weight loss and pain in the bones or joints indicate leukaemia.
Treatment Treatment depends on the age of the patient, type of leukemia (acute or chronic) and whether leukemia cells are found in the cerebrospinal fluid. Treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy, drugs, and stem cell transplant. Sometimes, surgery to remove the spleen may be required.
Significance of enlarged lymph nodes
It is evident from the above conditions that the nature of enlargement and the type of swelling of the lymph nodes is important in diagnosis and prognosis of the condition. For example, in cancers, the condition of lymph nodes is significant for cancer staging, which decides the treatment to be employed and the prognosis.
When to see a doctor
Contact a medical professional if your lymph nodes
Do not get smaller after several weeks or continue to get larger
Are red and tender
Feel hard, irregular or fixed in place
Are swollen and accompanied by fever, night sweats or unexplained weight loss.
See a doctor, if your child s lymph nodes become larger than 1 centimetre (a little less than 1/2 inch) in diameter. Very importantly, seek immediate medical care if you're experiencing severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing or swallowing.
Watch this video to know how yoga can help you deal with cancer:
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Armitage JO. Approach to the patient with lymphadenopathy and splenomegaly. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds.Goldman's Cecil Medicine
Tower RL, Camitta BM. Lymphadenopathy. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds.Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics
Gupta P R. Difficulties in managing lymph node tuberculosis. Lung India 2004;21:50-3
Treatment for lymph node tuberculosis BMJ 2010; 340 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c63