The lymphatic system is a complex network of thin vessels, valves, ducts, nodes, and organs. It helps to protect and maintain the fluid environment of the body by producing, filtering, and conveying lymph and by producing various immune blood cells.
The lymph system is present throughout the body. Common areas where enlarged lymph nodes can be felt (palpable nodes) include the groin area (inguinal region), armpit (axilla), the neck (there is a chain of lymph nodes on either side of the front of the neck, both sides of the neck, and down each side of the back of the neck), under the jaw and chin, behind the ears, and over the occiput (prominence on the back of the head).
Lymph nodes play an important part in the body’s defense against infection. Swelling might occur even if the infection is trivial or not apparent. Swelling of lymph nodes generally results from localized or systemic infection, abscess formation, or malignancy. Other causes of enlarged lymph nodes are extremely rare. By far, the most common cause of lymph node enlargement is infection. As a rule, when swelling appears suddenly and is painful, it is usually caused by injury or an infection. Enlargement that comes on gradually and painlessly may result from malignancy or tumor.
Lymphadenitis is an infection and inflammation of one or more of the lymph nodes. Lymphadenitis usually results from an infection that begins near a lymph node. Often caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, this condition affects the nodes in the neck, groin, and armpit. It sometimes strikes individuals who have had coronary artery bypasses using a saphenous vein from the leg: The removal of this vein is accompanied by removal of related structures of the lymphatic system, lowering immunity to infection.Acute lymphangitis is a bacterial infection in the lymphatic vessels which is characterized by painful, red streaks below the skin surface. This is a potentially serious infection which can rapidly spread to the bloodstream and be fatal.
Common causes of enlarged lymph nodes include:
Infectious mononucleosis (behind the ears or neck), rubella also known as German measles (behind the ears), tuberculosis (above the collar bone), mumps (salivary glands), ear infections or sore throat (neck glands, sometimes), infection in the scalp (behind the ears or in back of the head), impacted tooth (swollen gums), HIV disease or AIDS, cat-scratch fever, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, serum sickness, leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, canker sores, drugs (such as phenytoin), typhoid vaccination, and salivary duct stones. Any persistently swollen lymph gland requires careful diagnostic study.
Soreness in lymph glands usually disappears in a couple of days without treatment. Glands become painful due to the rapid swelling of the gland in the early stages of fighting the infection. It takes much longer for the gland to return to normal size than it did to enlarge.
Call your health care provider if:
- after several weeks of observation the glands don’t get smaller
- swollen glands are red and tender
- glands are hard, fixed to the skin, or are growing rapidly
- swollen glands are located behind the ear and there is also a scalp infection
- symptoms such as weight loss, night sweats, fatigue, or prolonged fever are also present
- one or more glands get larger over a period of 2-3 weeks
Generally, if you have symptoms of a cold or other minor infection, give the glands about 2 weeks to go back to normal. No specific treatment for them is needed. If the glands are small (less than 2 cm (3/4 inch), are in your groin or under the chin, and you are a young adult, this is considered normal. Children tend to have a more active lymphatic system, so their glands may feel enlarged.
Signs, symptoms & indicators of Enlarged Lymph Nodes
(Frequent) cervical node swelling
(Frequent) painful cervical nodes
Postauricular node problems
(History of) swollen axillary nodes
(History of) painful axillary nodes
(Often) swollen inguinal nodes
(Often) painful inguinal nodes
No swollen/painful lymph nodes
Risk factors for Enlarged Lymph Nodes
Enlarged Lymph Nodes suggests the following may be present
Recommendations for Enlarged Lymph Nodes
When castor oil is absorbed through the skin, several extraordinary events take place. The lymphocyte count of the blood increases and the flow of lymph increases throughout the body. This speeds up the removal of toxins surrounding the cells and reduces the size of swollen lymph nodes. The end result is a general overall improvement in organ function with a lessening of fatigue and depression.
To hasten the recovery of swollen lymph nodes, try a heating compress. A heating compress is not a hot compress but a cold one. It heats the area by bringing more blood to the area in order to warm the cold compress. Apply a cotton compress, such as a washcloth which has been placed in cold tap water and wrung out, to the affected area. Place a layer of plastic on top of this, followed by a large cloth such as a towel which will have an insulating effect. Make sure to wrap it in such a way that no air gets to the heating compress. Holding it in place by use of a makeshift wrap (ace bandage, belt, strapping material) will ensure that it doesn’t fall off if you fall asleep. This should be left in place for several hours or until the compress has dried.
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A network of vessels which collect fluid from the tissues of the body and return it to the blood. Lymphatic fluid (also called lymph) is rich in white blood cells that fight infection and an important part of the body's immune system.
A clear fluid that flows through lymph vessels and is collected from the tissues throughout the body. Its function is to nourish tissue cells and return waste matter to the bloodstream. The lymph system eventually connects with and adds to venous circulation.
Small, bean-shaped nodes at various points throughout the body that function to filter the lymph fluid and attempt to destroy the microorganisms and abnormal cells which collect there. The most common locations are the neck (both sides and front), armpit and groin, but also under the jaw and behind the ears. Swollen or painful lymph nodes generally result from localized or systemic infection, abscess formation, or malignancy. Other causes of enlarged lymph nodes are extremely rare. Physical examination for lymph nodes includes pressing on them to check for size, texture, warmth, tenderness and mobility. Most lymph nodes can not be felt until they become swollen, and then will only be tender when pressed or massaged. A lymph node that is painful even without touching indicates greater swelling. Lymph nodes can usually be distinguished from other growths because they generally feel small, smooth, round or oval-shaped and somewhat mobile when attempts are made to push them sideways. Because less fat covers the lymph nodes in children, they are easier to feel, even when they are not busy filtering germs or making antibodies. Children’s nodes enlarge faster, get bigger in response to an infection and stay swollen longer than an adult's.
Pertaining to the region of the groin. Generally, the lowest lateral regions of the abdomen just above either side of the genitals.
Hind-most region on the top of the head.
Microscopic germs. Some bacteria are "harmful" and can cause disease, while other "friendly" bacteria protect the body from harmful invading organisms.
An illness or symptom of sudden onset, which generally has a short duration.
Located in the lymph vessels of the body, these glands trap foreign material and produce lymphocytes. These glands act as filters in the lymph system, and contain and form lymphocytes and permit lymphatic cells to destroy certain foreign agents.
An acute, infectious disease caused by the herpes virus, Epstein-Barr virus, with fever and inflamed swelling of the lymph nodes around the neck, under the arms, and in the groin.
Also known as TB, Consumption or "The White Plague", tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, usually affecting the lungs but possibly also the brain, kidneys and bones. Patients may at first be symptom-free or experience a flu-like illness. In the secondary stage, there might be a slight fever, night sweats, weight loss, fatigue and various other symptoms, depending on the part of the body affected. Tuberculosis of the lung is usually associated with a dry cough that eventually leads to a productive cough with blood-stained sputum. There might also be chest pain and shortness of breath.
Abbreviation for human immunodeficiency virus, a retrovirus associated with onset of advanced immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
A long-term, destructive connective tissue disease that results from the body rejecting its own tissue cells (autoimmune reaction).
The cell-free fluid of the bloodstream. It appears in a test tube after the blood clots and is often used in expressions relating to the levels of certain compounds in the blood stream.
Cancer of the lymph glands and bone marrow resulting in overproduction of white blood cells (related to Hodgkin's disease).
Any tumor of the lymphatic tissues.
Also known as Aphthous Ulcers, these are small, painful ulcers that occur on the inside of the cheek, lip or underside of the tongue. Caused by an assortment of viruses, doctors call this condition aphthous stomatitis. Canker sores usually clear up by themselves within a week or so, but they often recur, sometimes in the form of multiple sores.