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Swollen lymph nodes

Lymphatic system
Swollen glands

Definition

Lymph nodes are found throughout your body. They are an important part of your immune system. Lymph nodes help your body recognize and fight germs, infections, and other foreign substances.

The term "swollen glands" refers to enlargement of one or more lymph nodes.

In a child, a node is considered enlarged if it is more than 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) wide.

See also: Lymphadenitis and lymphangitis

Alternative Names

Swollen glands; Glands - swollen; Lymph nodes - swollen; Lymphadenopathy

Considerations

Common areas where the lymph nodes can be felt (with the fingers) include:

Causes

Infections are the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes. Infections that can cause them include:

Immune or autoimmune disorders that can cause swollen lymph nodes are:

Cancers that can cause swollen lymph nodes include:

However, many other cancers may also cause this problem.

Certain medications can cause swollen lymph nodes, including:

Which lymph nodes are swollen depends on the cause and the body parts involved. Swollen lymph nodes that appear suddenly and are pain are usually due to injury or infection. Slow, painless swelling may be due to cancer or a tumor.

Home Care

Painful lymph nodes are generally a sign that your body is fighting an infection. The soreness usually goes away in a couple days, without treatment. The lymph node may not return to its normal size for several weeks.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor or nurse if:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your doctor or nurse will perform a physical examination and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, such as:

The following tests may be done:

References

Armitage JO. Approach to the patient with lymphadenopathy and splenomegaly. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 171.

Tower RL, Camitta BM. Lymphadenopathy. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 484.


Review Date: 5/15/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.