Lymph nodes, also known as lymph glands, are situated throughout the body and are important to the body’s immune system. They are palpable and visible when they are swollen or enlarged. Lymph nodes can be found in every region of the body, and any problem of the lymph nodes will be a sign of abnormalities in that region.
Swollen lymph nodes are more noticeable and prominent in the neck, behind the ear, under the chin, in the armpits and the groin. Health care practitioners usually check these areas for lymph node enlargement.
Generally, the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes is infection. Other causes include strep throat, HIV infection, ear infection, lymphoma, leukemia and cancer. Local or widespread inflammation can also cause enlargement of lymph nodes.
The common symptoms of swollen lymph nodes are pain, swelling, tenderness and warmth in the affected area. On the other hand, not all enlarged lymph nodes are abnormal.
Causes of Swollen Lymph Nodes
Normally, lymph nodes are the same size as peas and sometimes can be felt as lumps under the skin. Oftentimes, people feel the lymph nodes in the neck.
Lymph nodes swell as a response to infection, illness or stress. They become more noticeable and are easier to feel when they are swollen. Enlarged lymph nodes are usually a sign that the lymphatic system is working to clear the body from responsible agents.
There are many reasons why lymph nodes become swollen. The common causes of swollen lymph glands include:
This is the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes. Infection can increase the level of white blood cells which reproduce in response to a foreign substance or antigen.
The lymph nodes close to an infection quickly swell and become tender when the immune system battles against bacteria and viruses. The lymph nodes normally return to their usual size when the infection subsides. It may take a week or more for them to slowly go back to normal after the infection is gone.
Examples of the common infections that cause swollen lymph nodes are:
- Throat infection
- Common cold
- Mouth sores
- Tooth related infections
- Skin infections of the arm
- Nappy rash
- Infections of the genitals or legs
- Impacted tooth
- Viral infections such as chickenpox, influenza or glandular fever
Swollen lymph nodes occur due to the infiltration of inflammatory cells during inflammation or infection of a lymph node or a group of lymph nodes. Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are some immune disorders which may cause generalized swelling of lymph nodes.
The lymph nodes in the body tend to swell due to cancer. Penetration of malignant cells brought to the lymph nodes, flows from a region of cancer. Lymphoma or breast cancer can cause the lymph nodes in the armpit to swell.
No matter the cause of a swollen lymph node or group of lymph nodes, it is better to ask for medical help and have the nodes evaluated.