What Are Posterior Cervical Lymph Nodes?
Posterior cervical lymph nodes are basically a group of oval or kidney-shaped glands situated behind the neck, or in the cervical region of the spine. Posterior cervical lymph nodes are major sites of B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes, and other white blood cells which help to fight infections, making them an integral part of the immune system. Swelling in the cervical lymph nodes, also called cervical lymphadenopathy; or to explain simply, swelling on the back of the neck, can often indicate an infection because these nodes are also responsible for filtering out potentially harmful microorganisms and pathogens from the lymphatic system.
How Do Cervical Lymph Nodes Work?
Lymphatic tissue shapes up into vessels and nodes to form the lymphatic system of the body. The neck region, along with many other different groups of lymph nodes, spread across the body and helps to deploy immune cells and drain lymphatic fluid in different areas of the body. It is because of this fact that the cervical lymph nodes are often used by doctors to identify the location of an infection. When one catches an infection or disease, the lymph nodes begin to release more lymphocytes, i.e. white blood cells, and become swollen in size.
What Causes Swelling Of Posterior Cervical Lymph Node?
At times, swelling in the posterior cervical lymph node occurs due to blockage of lymphatic vessels from an abnormality or infection. Once the body clears this pathway, the flow returns to normal causing the lymph node to regain its normal size. Swelling of the posterior cervical lymph node is caused by:
Infections: One of the most common causes of swelling in the posterior cervical lymph nodes is infection in or affecting the head region. The cervical lymph nodes become tender and highly sensitive to touch. This is also accompanied by symptoms like fever, congestion and body ache. Some common infections which can lead to swollen posterior cervical lymph nodes are pharyngitis, mononucleosis, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr Virus, periodontitis, rubella and toxoplasmosis.
Systemic Triggers: Diseases which negatively affect the normal functioning of the immune system can also lead to swelling in lymph nodes in the neck. These illnesses can weaken the immune system and cause several health complications. Autoimmune diseases are one of the triggers behind swollen lymph nodes. Diseases like HIV, AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus can cause such a swelling on the back of the neck.
Vaccines & Drugs: Certain drugs, like phenytoin and carbamazepine, cause side effects like swelling of the posterior cervical lymph nodes or swelling on the back of the neck. Live vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine, can also lead to posterior cervical lymph nodes inflammation and swelling on the back of the neck. However, this vaccine is safe to use and its side effect is only temporary.
Cancer: Although not a common feature of cancer, swelling of the posterior cervical lymph nodes or swelling on the back of the neck can be present in lymphoma, which is a cancer of the lymphatic system. Metastasis and leukaemia can also trigger swollen lymph nodes. The lymph nodes may or may not be painful, depending on the type of cancer.
How Are Swollen Posterior Cervical Lymph Nodes Diagnosed & Treated?
Swollen posterior cervical lymph nodes or swelling on the back of the neck may not always be a cause for concern. However, in some cases this problem may need to be addressed by a medical professional. Swelling in the lymph nodes mostly goes away once the underlying infection gets treated successfully. But if the swelling on the back of the neck remains for a long duration and is accompanied by other symptoms like weight loss or fatigue, it can be sign of a serious underlying condition, which would need to be treated without delay. One should visit a doctor if the swelling persists for 2 to 4 weeks and continue to enlarge; the lymph nodes harden up and become difficult to move under the skin, and if the patient has additional symptoms like night chills, night sweats, high fever, fatigue and weight loss are also experienced. For identifying the cause of the swelling on the back of the neck, the doctor would first enquire about the patient’s history of symptoms. The doctor would then physically examine the patient to gauge the severity of the inflammation. A blood test and even a biopsy of the swollen lymph node can be conducted to detect any abnormalities. There is no particular treatment for swollen posterior cervical lymph node or swelling on the back of the neck and treating the underlying condition generally helps to resolve the problem. Any bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics; while the pain can be managed with painkillers. In case of an immune system disorder, the patient would need to use medication which can weaken their body’s ability to fight infections. Ones suffering from cancer would need to undergo radiation, chemotherapy and surgery to resolve the disease.
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