Swollen lymph nodes, also called “swollen glands”, refer to an enlargement of one or more lymph nodes. A lymph node is a small round cluster of cells covered by a capsule of connective tissue. Lymph nodes are found throughout the body and act as a defense mechanism against germs, infections and other causes of illnesses.
They usually occur as a result of exposure to bacteria or viruses. Lymphadenitis is a term referred to swollen lymph nodes caused by an infection in the body.
Common areas where an individual might notice swelling in certain areas where a swollen lymph node is present include the neck, underarms, under the jaw and chin, behind the ears and in the groin.
Treatment options for swollen lymph nodes typically require time and appliance of warm compresses on the affected area. In more severe cases, surgery is recommended.
The most common signs and symptoms of swollen lymph nodes include:
- Tenderness in the lymph node
- Painful lymph node
- Swelling in the underarms and groin area
Depending on the cause of the swollen lymph nodes, other signs and symptoms an individual may experience include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Swollen limb
- Broad swelling of lymph nodes throughout the body
- Hardened growing nodes (possible tumor)
- Frequent sweating
Typically, lymph nodes swell in one location when a problem such as an injury, infection or tumor develops in or near the lymph node. The location of the swollen lymph node is key to helping identify the underlying cause.
The most common cause of swollen lymph nodes is an infection, such as a common cold. However, there are other types of infections (bacterial and parasitic) which can cause swollen lymph nodes. They include:
- Strep throat
- Ear infections
- Infected tooth
- Skin or wound infections
- Cat scratch fever
Immune or autoimmune disorders that can cause swollen lymph nodes include the following:
- HIV infection
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Certain cancers which can cause swollen lymph nodes include the following:
- Hodgkin Disease
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Left untreated, possible complications that can arise from swollen lymph nodes include the following:
- Formation of abscess: A collection of pus (liquid white blood cells, dead tissue and bacteria) caused by an infection. Drainage of the abscess and antibiotic treatment is recommended to prevent further damage to surrounding vital organs.
- Bacteremia: An infection of the bloodstream which can lead to organ failure and death. Treatment options typically involve hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics.
Treatment options for swollen lymph nodes greatly depend on the overall cause and location of the swollen lymph node.
- In cases of swollen lymph nodes caused by an infection, the most common recommended treatment is antibiotics.
- In cases of swollen lymph nodes caused by an immune disorder (lupus or rheumatoid arthritis), treatment is directed at treating the underlying condition.
- In cases of swollen lymph nodes caused by cancer, treatment may involve surgery, radiation or chemotherapy depending on the type of cancer an individual is suffering from:
– Surgery: A surgical procedure that involves complete removal of the cancer.
– Radiation therapy: The use of high powered energy beams such as X-rays to kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery.
– Chemotherapy: The use of anti-cancerous drugs to kill cancer cells.