Swollen Lymph Nodes (cont.)
Siamak T. Nabili, MD, MPH
Dr. Nabili received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), majoring in chemistry and biochemistry. He then completed his graduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His graduate training included a specialized fellowship in public health where his research focused on environmental health and health-care delivery and management.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- What are lymph nodes?
- Where are the lymph nodes located in the body?
- Picture of lymph nodes located in the body
- What are the causes of swollen lymph nodes?
- What are the symptoms of swollen lymph nodes?
- How are swollen lymph nodes diagnosed?
- How are swollen lymph nodes treated?
- When should I see the doctor for swollen lymph nodes?
- What are the common lymph nodes that may get swollen?
- What are the complications of swollen lymph nodes?
- Swollen Lymph Nodes At A Glance
- Find a local Internist in your town
What are the symptoms of swollen lymph nodes?
Symptoms of swollen lymph nodes vary widely. A person could be completely free of symptoms (asymptomatic) and only found when they are noted by a doctor during a general physical examination.
Sometimes, swollen lymph nodes can be extremely tender, painful, and disfiguring.
More importantly, other symptoms related to an underlying disease that accompany the lymph node swelling may be more significant and clinically relevant than the lymph node swelling alone. For instance, symptoms such as fever, night sweats, weight loss, or evidence of local infections (toothache, sore throat) may provide valuable clues in determining the cause of lymph node swelling.
How are swollen lymph nodes diagnosed?
Swollen lymph nodes closer to the surface of the body are generally diagnosed by a doctor's examination and feeling for areas known to have coalescence of lymph nodes, for example, swollen lymph nodes under the arms (axillary lymph nodes), swollen lymph nodes in the sides of the neck (cervical lymph nodes), or swollen lymph nodes in the groin (inguinal lymph nodes). These swollen lymph nodes can be seen and felt easily.
Other times, deeper lymph nodes could be seen on imaging studies, such as CT scan (computed tomography), of different parts of the body.
Tonsils in the back of the throat are also lymph nodes, and they are the most visible ones in the body.
Diagnosing the cause of swollen lymph nodes may be challenging at times. The most important component of evaluating a swollen lymph node is a thorough medical history and a complete physical examination by a doctor. The doctor may ask you about symptoms such as sore throat, fever and chills, fatigue, weight loss, a complete list of medications, sexual activity, vaccination history, recent travels, the patient's own and his/her family's previous history of cancers if any, and so forth.
A group of lymph nodes in a particular area of the body react to disturbances in that general region. If there is a specific infection in the region of the swollen lymph nodes, that may be the most likely cause of swelling. For instance, an infection of the leg or some sexually transmitted diseases can cause swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin area.
Physicians usually examine the lymph nodes by feeling them and characterize them based upon what the lymph nodes feel like. They could be characterized, for example, as:
- large or small,
- tender or non-tender,
- fixed or mobile,
- hard or soft, or
- firm or rubbery.
These characteristics can be useful in suggesting the cause of the lymph node swelling. For example, a hard, nontender, nonmoveable lymph node may be more characteristic of a cancer spread to that node. On the other hand, a soft, tender, moveable lymph node could more likely represent an infection.
If the enlarged lymph nodes are suspected to be related to a cancer, then a biopsy of the lymph node may determine the cancer type. For example, a swollen lymph node around the collar bone (supraclavicular lymph node), may signify lung cancer in a person who may have other clinical clues suggestive of lung cancer.
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