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Gland swelling commonly refers to enlargement of the lymph glands, also known as lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small rounded or bean-shaped masses of lymphatic tissue surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue. Lymph glands (nodes) are located in many places in the lymphatic system throughout the body. Lymph nodes filter the lymphatic fluid and store special cells that can trap cancer cells or bacteria that are traveling through the body in the lymph fluid. The lymph nodes are critical for the body's immune response and are principal sites where many immune reactions are initiated.

Groups of lymph nodes are found in the neck, around the collarbone, in the armpit (axilla), and in the groin. Lymph nodes in the groin region are referred to as inguinal lymph nodes. During a physical examination, a doctor may feel (palpate) these areas to look for swollen or enlarged lymph glands.

Swelling of the lymph glands is typically a result of local or widespread inflammation, but sometimes enlarged lymph nodes are due to cancer. Swollen lymph glands are referred to as lymphadenopathy. Inflammation of a lymph node is referred to as lymphadenitis.

Symptoms of swollen lymph nodes include

  • localized pain,
  • swelling,
  • tenderness, and
  • warmth in the involved area.

Sometimes swollen lymph nodes cause no symptoms (referred to as asymptomatic lymph node swelling). Symptoms that can be associated with lymph node swelling, depending on the cause, include

Other glands that are sometimes perceptible when swollen are the tonsils, parotid glands, salivary glands, tear (lacrimal) glands, and the thyroid gland.

REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/8/2017

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