Mesenteric lymphadenitis refers to the inflammation of the mesenteric lymph nodes, which are tissues that help the body fight off illness. More precisely, it is an inflammation in the membrane that attaches the intestine to the abdominal wall (mesentery) and limits the movement of the intestines in the abdominal cavity. Depending on the causative agent, this intestinal inflammation may be acute or chronic. Either way, it causes a clinical presentation that is often difficult to differentiate from acute appendicitis. Unlike appendicitis, however, mesenteric lymphadenitis is seldom serious and clears on its own.
With mesenteric lymphadenitis, an upper respiratory tract infection may occur right before any other symptoms appear. This may cause symptoms such as a sore throat. The most common 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;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- General feeling of being unwell
In some cases, swollen lymph nodes are found on imaging tests for another problem.
Infections that cause mesenteric lymphadenitis may be located locally or throughout the body. The infections may be caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites. Common infections that cause mesenteric lymphadenitis include:
- Gastroenteritis that may result from viral infections such as rotavirus or norovirus. It may also result from bacterial infections such as salmonella, staphylococcus, or streptococcus. Gastroenteritis is often misnamed stomach flu.
- Yersinia enterocolitica.
Other infections that cause mesenteric lymphadenitis include:
- Direct or indirect infections related to HIV;
- Whipple disease;
- Acute terminal ileitis;
- Breast cancer;
- Lung cancer;
- Pancreatic cancer;
- Gastrointestinal cancer
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 is not treated, the bacteria could spread to the bloodstream, causing a potentially life-threatening infection (sepsis). In some cases, mesenteric adenitis can be mistaken for appendicitis or may signal a serious condition. If left untreated, appendicitis may lead to a ruptured appendix, which can be life threatening.