Lymph nodes are small glands found throughout the body. These bean-shaped glands are part of the lymph system, which carries waste material, fluid, and nutrients between the bloodstream and the body tissues. Being such an important part of the immune system, the lymph represents the body’s defense system against disease. The system filters the lymph fluid as it runs through the body. As a result, the lymph nodes trap foreign substances like viruses and bacteria. At the same time, the white blood cells called lymphocytes destroy all the foreign organisms. You should also know that lymph nodes may be found in groups or singly. They can be as small as a pin or as large as an olive. The groups of nodules can be felt in the underarms, neck and groin. However, most of them cannot be felt.
What Are the Causes of Swelling?
The lymph nodes get swollen because of numerous causes. The medical condition is referred to as “swollen glands” or lymphadenopathy. Usually, the lymph nodes get swollen when cancer, infection or an inflammation appears.
An infection is one of the most common causes of swollen lymph glands. The infection occurs when parasites, viruses, bacteria and fungi interfere with the wellbeing of the lymph nodes. The most common causes of swollen lymph nodes are upper respiratory infections like the common cold.
Immunologic and inflammatory causes of swollen lymph glands include diseases as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and side effects to some medication.
The type of cancer that originates from the blood cells or lymph nodes can cause the swelling of the nodes. Leukemia and lymphoma are the most common cancers that mess up with the lymph glands. Also, some other cancers can spread to other organs in the body. For example, breast cancer may spread to the lymph glands in the underarm. Lung cancer can spread to the lymph nodes around the collar bone.
What Are the Symptoms?
The symptoms of swollen lymph nodes vary. A person could be asymptomatic and the signs could only be identified by a doctor during an examination. In the worst cases, swollen lymph glands can be excruciatingly painful and disfiguring. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Fever and night sweats
- Runny nose, sore throat and other signs of an upper respiratory infection
- Painful and tender lymph nodes
- General swelling of the lymph nodes throughout your body
- Fixed, hardened and rapidly growing nodes indicating a possible tumor
- Swollen lymph nodes that may be the size of a kidney bean or larger
- Swollen limb indicating a blockage caused by swelling in a lymph node
When Should You Visit a Doctor?
If you experience any of the symptoms above and you do not have any obvious infection, then you might need a complete examination performed by a specialist. People who were treated for an infection, but didn’t get rid of the swollen lymph nodes may need to visit a doctor. If a patient is known to suffer from cancer or has suffered in the past, then new lymph nodes that developed in the affected area are a serious warning sign.