Lymph nodes are small glands that clear the fluid that circulates through the lymphatic system. However, you can have swollen lymph nodes in response to infection and tumors.
Lymphatic fluid circulates through hr lymphatic system that consists of channels throughout your body.
Interestingly, they are just like blood vessels.
The lymph nodes are glands that store white blood cells that are responsible for killing invading foreign bodies.
Lymph nodes are like checkpoints in your body.
When any foreign body like a bacteria, virus, and abnormal or diseased cells pass through these channels, lymph nodes stops them.
Lymph nodes accumulate debris when they face an infection or illness.
This debris contains bacterial and dead or diseased cells.
Moreover, lymph nodes are present in your whole body and are found under your skin.
The areas are in the armpits. under the jaw, on either side of your neck and groin, and above your color bone.
Lymph nodes swell as a result of an infection in the area where they are present.
Let’s learn more about them.
Functions of the lymphatic system
The lymphatic system is made of lymph vessels, ducts, nodes, and other tissues.
This system is a network of vessels that collect fluids or lymph which is a clear fluid derived from blood plasma.
There are 3 main functions of your lymphatic system.
Fluid Balance: The lymphatic system helps to maintain the fluid balance and returns the excess fluid and proteins.
This fluid is found in tissue spaces and cavities or interstitial spaces.
Every day 2-3 liters of this fluid goes back and includes proteins as well.
Without the draining excess fluid, our tissues would swell, blood volume would be lost and pressure would increase.
Absorption: Most of the fats from the gastrointestinal tract are taken up in the small intestine.
The lymphatic system has small lacteals that form villi.
They have the ability to absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins to form a milky white fluid Chyle.
This contains lymph and emulsified fats that deliver nutrients to capillaries.
Immune System: The third function is to defend your body against foreign organisms.
If the immune system is not able to fight off these micro-organisms, or pathogens, they can be harmful and even fatal.
Causes of Swollen Lymph Nodes
Swollen lymph nodes are due to the presence of illness, infection, or stress.
They are a sign that your lymphatic system is working to get rid of the foreign bodies.
Swollen lymph nodes in the head and neck are generally due to illnesses like ear infections, flu or cold, sinus infection.
HIV infection, tooth infection, mononucleosis, skin infection, and strep throat can also cause swollen lymph nodes.
However, more serious illnesses like the ones that affect your immune system or cancer can cause the lymph nodes to swell in your whole body.
Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are types of immune system disorders that can cause swollen lymph nodes.
Different types of cancer can also make your lymph nodes swell, especially Lymphoma.
As cancer spreads throughout your body, it can be life-threatening.
Moreover, certain medications and allergic reactions to medication can cause swollen lymph nodes.
Antiseizure and antimalarial drugs can do that as well.
STIs or sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis or gonorrhea can also cause swelling of lymph nodes in the groin area.
Other Causes of Swollen Lymph Nodes
Other causes of swollen lymph nodes can be gingivitis, leukemia, metastasized cancer, mouth sores, and tonsilitis.
Moreover, tuberculosis, TB, cat scratch fever, Hodgkin’s disease, toxoplasmosis, measles, Sezary Syndrome, and shingles can also cause the.
Learn more about autoimmune diseases and foods to boost the immune system.
Symptoms of Swollen Lymph Nodes
The lymphatic system is a network of organs, vessels, and lymph nodes throughout your body.
Many of them are present in your head and neck region.
In most cases, lymph nodes often swell in these areas as well as the groin and armpits.
Swollen lymph nodes are often a sign of something wrong in your body and you might notice tenderness and pain in the lymph nodes.
Swelling that may be the size of a pea or kidney bean or even larger in certain cases.
Depending on the signs and symptoms, as well as severity, you might also notice:
- runny nose, sore throat, fever
- general swelling of lymph nodes
- hard or rapidly growing nodes
- night sweats
If you have swollen lymph nodes, or you experience pain, then you should consult your doctor.
However, it is important to note that swollen nodes that are not tender can be a sign of a serious problem.
How to Check for Swelling?
You can check for swollen lymph nodes by gently pressing around the areas like the sides of your neck.
They will feel like soft, round bumps and maybe the size of a pea or grape.
They may also feel tender which shows that there is an infection, however, in some cases, they may look larger.
Lymph nodes are parallel on both sides of your body and you can check on each side and compare their size.
If you notice a difference in sizes, then it shows swelling in the lymph node.
You might also experience pain while making sudden movements.
Such movements include turning your neck sharply, bobbing your head, or eating certain foods that are difficult to chew.
Swollen lymph nodes often occur alongside other symptoms and may also vary depending on the underlying medical condition.
This includes a sore throat, cough, or flu-like symptoms.
When to See your Doctor
In most cases, swollen lymph nodes tend to go away after the illness or infection passes.
However, there are certain warning signs you should watch for.
These are glands that swell up suddenly, glands larger than pea-size, the ones that do not move or feel hard.
Glands that stay swelled for more than 5 days, the area that turns red or purple and feels warm, swelling in your arms or groin.
Sudden weight loss, a persistent fever, and night sweats are all warning signs you should look for.
If you notice any of these signs, then you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Diagnosis of Swollen Lymph Nodes
The diagnosis of swollen lymph nodes depends on your medical history or injury you might have had.
This also includes the signs and symptoms you might be experiencing as well.
Your doctor will also check for nodes near the surface of your skin for size, tenderness, warmth, and texture.
The location of the swollen lymph nodes is also important as they may also help diagnose the underlying condition.
Certain blood tests can help your doctor to identify the underlying condition.
The tests include a complete blood count CBC, which helps to determine your overall health.
An X-ray and CT scan can also help determine the potential sources of infection or find tumors.
In certain cases, your doctor may also order a biopsy of your swollen lymph nodes.
For this, they will take a sample from a lymph node or even the entire lymph node for examination.
Swollen lymph nodes can be due to viruses, and if so, they tend to be normal after the infection passes.
Antibiotics are not useful to treat infections.
Treatment for swollen lymph nodes depends on the cause:
Infections: The most common treatment for swollen lymph nodes is bacterial infections is antibiotics.
However, if they are due to HIV infections, you will need a specific treatment for this.
Immune Disorder: If your lymph nodes are swollen due to conditions like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, then you will get treatment for that particular underlying condition.
Cancer: For cancer, you will need treatment depending on the type of it.
Moreover, you might need surgery, tradition, or chemotherapy, and depends on the severity o your cancer.
As the lymph nodes increase in size, it can cause other complications.
If the swelling is due to an infection, and you do not get treatment, then an abscess or a pocket of pus can form.
This may need incisional drainage and antibiotics.
However, your skin can also become infected due to large lymph nodes.
In other cases, a lymph node can become very large and compress other structures near it.
It can be serious and may require immediate medical attention.
For instance, lymph nodes in your underarms can compress the blood vessels and nerves supplying the arm.
Lymph nodes are responsible for different functions in your body. In case they get swelling, they may feel swollen or tender, however, it goes away with time. If this does not happen, then you should seek medical attention as soon as possible because it can be a sign of a serious medical condition.
You can simply feel the swollen lymph nodes by gently touching them as they often feel tender and soft, however, if they are hard, then visit your doctor.
The treatment of swollen lymph nodes depends on the causes and diagnosis of your doctor. The treatment may involve using antibiotics for infections, treatment for the specific autoimmune disease or radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or surgical extraction in case of cancer.