If you have swollen lymph nodes, you're likely to start by first seeing your family doctor. However, when you call to set up your appointment, you may be urged to seek immediate medical care if you're experiencing severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing or swallowing.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance.
- Write down any symptoms you've been experiencing, and for how long. Among other symptoms, your doctor will want to know if you've had flu-like symptoms such as fever or sore throat, and may ask whether you've noticed changes in your weight. Include on your list every symptom, from mild to severe, that you've noticed since your lymph nodes began to swell.
- Make a list of all recent exposures to possible sources of infection. These may include travel abroad, hiking in areas known to have ticks, eating undercooked meat, being scratched by a cat, or engaging in high-risk sexual behavior or sex with a new partner.
- Make a list of your key medical information, including other conditions you're being treated for and the names of the medications that you're taking. Include every prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drug you use, as well as any vitamins and supplements.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out.
For swollen lymph nodes, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What's causing my symptoms?
- Are there any other possible causes for my symptoms?
- What kinds of tests do I need?
- What treatment do you recommend?
- How quickly will I start to feel better?
- Am I contagious? How can I reduce the risk of infecting others?
- How can I prevent this from happening in the future?
- I have these other health conditions. Do I need to change the treatments I've been using?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing for me?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over points you want to discuss in-depth. Your doctor may ask:
- What are your symptoms?
- When did you first begin experiencing symptoms?
- Have your affected lymph nodes gotten larger over time?
- Are your affected lymph nodes tender?
- Have you been experiencing fever or night sweats?
- Have you lost weight without trying?
- Do you have a sore throat or difficulty swallowing?
- Have you experienced any difficulty breathing?
- Have your bowel habits changed?
- What medications are you currently taking?
- Have you recently traveled to another country or to tick-inhabited regions? Did anyone who traveled with you get sick?
- Have you recently been exposed to new animals? Were you bitten or scratched?
- Have you recently had sex with a new partner?
- Do you practice safe sex? Have you done so since you became sexually active?
- Do you smoke? For how long?
What you can do in the meantime
While you wait for your appointment, warm compresses and OTC pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), may make you or your child more comfortable. Don't give aspirin to your child without first consulting with your child's doctor, because of its link to the harmful Reye's syndrome.
Jan. 02, 2014
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Online. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed Aug. 25, 2013.
- Fletcher RH. Evaluation of peripheral lymphadenopathy in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Aug. 25, 2013.
- Lymphadenitis. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic_disorders/bacterial_skin_infections/lymphadenitis.html. Accessed Aug. 25, 2013.
- Motyckova G, et al. Why does my patient have lymphadenopathy or splenomegaly? Hematology and Oncology Clinics of North America. 2012;26:395.