The Link Between Swollen Lymph Nodes and HIV

A lymph node is said to be swollen if its dimension changes and they become wide by about half an inch. This generally happens as a result of an infection and once such deadly viral infection is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV. Since the time, HIV was first detected its connection with the lymphoid tissue was identified and studied by researchers and scientists. They found that HIV had some sort of a connect with the lymph nodes whether it was the pathogenesis or the clinical manifestations of the disease.[1,2]

In fact, researchers believe that generalized lymphadenopathy or lymph node swelling is one of the first signs of HIV infection. The work that has been done over the past 25 years and more states that the lymphoid organs are the core to the pathogenesis of immune deficiency in cases of stage-1 HIV.[1,2]

Antiretroviral therapy is the frontline treatment for HIV and keeps the immune system strong enough to ward off any infections and improves the quality of life for a longer period of time. The article below highlights the link between lymph node swelling and HIV infection.[1,2]

The Link Between Swollen Lymph Nodes and HIV

Anatomically, the lymph node forms the part of the lymphatic system and is a small bean sized tissue. The lymph nodes are instrumental in fighting off infections in the body. The whole body has around 600 lymph nodes in which some are close to the surface of the skin while others are embedded deep in the tissue. When the lymph node swells up, then it invariably means that the body is fighting off an infection. At times, they can even be felt as tight knots or lumps that may sometimes be painful.[2]

Most common areas of lymph node swelling are either side of the neck, just beneath the chin, groin, and armpits. Whenever the body is infected with a virus, the immune system of the body gets activated and the person starts to experience flu like symptoms. When this happens, the lymph nodes get swollen and can be felt in the areas mentioned above. These symptoms may last for a few days till the infection clears away. The patient during this time will have fever, muscle and body pains, rashes and fatigue along with lymph node swelling.[2]

HIV as stated is again a viral infection. This virus enters the CD4 cells and starts to destroy them. This makes the immune system extremely weak and not potent enough to fight infections. If timely treatment is not rendered then the CD4 count keeps dropping and once it reaches below 200 cells per cubic millimeter then the person is diagnosed with stage III HIV which is the most advanced form of the disease and generally lethal. In such people the immune system becomes so weak that they tend to contract infections easily which causes the lymph nodes to swell. Lymph node swelling is in fact one of the first signs of HIV in many people, especially if they are chronically enlarged and have been so for more than three months.[2]

If lymph node swelling is followed by fever, outbreak of herpes, lethargy, memory problems, and unintentional weight loss and if the person has a recent history of unprotected sexual activity with multiple partners or has had an unsterilized blood transfusion then in all likelihood it is HIV. If proper diagnosis is made and treatment given, then it is very much possible to keep HIV in check and lead a longer and healthier life.[2]

However, just by lymph node swelling it is not possible to definitively diagnose HIV and for this other tests need to be done. If a person has symptoms and has been involved in any of the activities mentioned above then it is better to consult with a physician and get tested for HIV if lymph node swelling is observed. It should be noted that there is a prevention medication for HIV which can be given within 72 hours after exposure to the virus. This is called post-exposure prophylaxis. This medication helps in preventing HIV infection from spreading if given within the stipulated time frame.[2]

However, if a person has lymph node swelling which keeps getting worse, has not subsided ever after two or more weeks, and feels hard and immobile then they should consult with a physician and get checked for HIV. The physician will first do a general physical examination and will look at the area of the swelling to check for any tenderness or mobility of the node. A detailed history of the patient will also be taken about his or her recent activities. A blood test will also be done to look for an alternative cause for lymph node swelling.[2]

Once HIV is diagnosed, then the patient will be put on antiretroviral therapy. This therapy does not get rid of the virus but lessens its effect to a significant degree. Once the medication cuts down the HIV significantly the immune system gets a boost and the body is prevented from any infections and the transmission rate also becomes minimal. However, the patient will have to undergo regular monitoring and testing to ensure that the virus is under control.[2]

In conclusion, lymph node swelling is one of the starting symptoms of HIV. This happens because HIV weakens the immune system of the body. This makes it easier for infections to creep in. The lymph node swells up when the immune system gets activated to fight off the infection. HIV does not have a cure but with antiretroviral therapy the effect of the virus gets significantly less and the immune system becomes strong. However, for people with advanced HIV, there is literally no immune system response and for such people HIV becomes lethal.[1,2]

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