What is Enlarged or Swollen Lymph Nodes?
Lymph Nodes are minute glands present whose function is to filter lymph which is a fluid which flows through the entire lymphatic system. Whenever there is an infection or in cases of a tumor or abnormal growth, these lymph nodes get swollen or enlarged. The lymph or what we call as lymphatic fluid circulates throughout the lymphatic system and the lymph nodes store white blood cells and filter this fluid. Since the lymph nodes store white blood cells hence they are important in fighting off infection and inflammation caused due to any virus or bacteria. The Lymph Nodes are like a security check post and if any foreign body like a bacteria or virus passes through this channel they are stopped at the Lymph Node and not allowed to enter further in the body and cause damage. Because of some form of illness or infection, there is a lot of debris constituting of dead cells and bacteria which gets accumulated in the lymph nodes resulting in enlarged or swollen lymph nodes.
Lymph nodes can be found in various areas of the body including the armpits, below the jaw, either side of neck, either side of groin, and just above the clavicle. Enlarged or swollen lymph nodes occur at the particular site where there is an infection. Citing an example due to an upper respiratory infection the lymph nodes in the neck will get enlarged or swollen.
What are the Causes of Enlarged or Swollen Lymph Nodes?
As stated above, the main cause of enlarged or swollen lymph nodes is some type of infection or illness. Sometimes, tumors or abnormal growths can also cause enlarged or swollen lymph nodes. Stress is also one of the causes of enlarged or swollen lymph nodes.
Serious medical conditions like autoimmune disorders and cancer can cause enlarged or swollen lymph nodes throughout the body. Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are some conditions which can cause enlarged or swollen lymph nodes.
Certain classes of medications like antiseizure and antimalarial medications may also cause enlarged or swollen lymph nodes as a side effect.
What are the Symptoms of Enlarged or Swollen Lymph Nodes?
An enlarged or swollen lymph node can be as small as a pea or as large as a cherry. They are painful to touch and there is tenderness around the area. An individual with enlarged or swollen lymph node will find it difficult to move the area, especially the neck or the armpits. Enlarged or Swollen Lymph Nodes in the jaw may cause pain with any movement of the head and with chewing food. Enlarged or swollen lymph nodes in the groin will make ambulation difficult and painful for the affected individual. The individual will also find it painful and difficult to bend and pick up something from the ground.
Some of the other symptoms that point towards an enlarged or swollen lymph node are
- Persistent coughing
- Excessive fatigue
- Fever and chills
- Runny nose
- Persistent sweating.
How is Enlarged or Swollen Lymph Nodes Diagnosed?
If you have the above mentioned symptoms and have had a recent history of an illness or infection then it is better to consult with a physician to look for enlarged or swollen lymph nodes. The physician will take a history of the individual inquiring about the duration of the symptoms. Physical examination will be done to check the areas where lymph nodes are present looking for any signs of enlargement, tenderness or lump. A blood test may also be done to rule out other potential conditions causing the symptoms. If enlarged or swollen lymph nodes are suspected then imaging tests may be done to look at the extent of the enlargement and evaluate the surrounding areas and then come up with a treatment plan for the condition. In some cases, a lymph node biopsy may be done for definitive diagnosis and ruling out conditions like cancer.
How are Enlarged or Swollen Lymph Nodes Treated?
Enlarged or Swollen Lymph Nodes resolve on their own with time and generally do not require any treatment. In some cases, the physician may not order any formal treatment but just adopt a wait and watch approach to see whether the enlargement or swelling comes down on its own or whether it increases.
In case of bacterial infections as a cause for enlarged or swollen lymph nodes, antibiotics will be prescribed to bring down the swelling and enlargement of the lymph node.
Same is the case for viral infections where antiviral medications will be given to treat the condition. NSAIDs or pain medications may also be prescribed to calm down the pain and inflammation.
Enlarged or swollen lymph nodes caused due to cancer may not come back to normal size until the primary source of cancer is treated which may require radiation and chemotherapy or surgical removal of the cancerous lesion. Depending on the underlying cause, the physician will determine the best treatment course for Enlarged or Swollen Lymph Nodes.