Your lymphatic system comprises a network of organs, vessels and numerous lymph nodes situated throughout your body. Most of your lymph nodes are located in your head and neck region. Lymph nodes that frequently swell are in this area, as well as in your armpits and groin area.
Swollen lymph nodes are a sign that something is wrong somewhere in your body. When your lymph nodes first swell, you might notice:
- Tender and painful lymph nodes
- Swollen lymph nodes that may be the size of a pea or kidney bean, or even larger
Depending on the cause of your swollen lymph nodes, other signs and symptoms you might have include:
- Runny nose, sore throat, fever and other indications of an upper respiratory infection
- General swelling of lymph nodes throughout your body — which may indicate an infection, such as HIV or mononucleosis, or an immune disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- Swollen limb, possibly indicating lymph system blockage caused by swelling in a lymph node too far under your skin to feel
- Hardened, fixed, rapidly growing nodes, indicating a possible tumor
- Night sweats
When to see a doctor
Some swollen lymph nodes return to normal when the underlying condition, such as a minor infection, resolves. However, see your doctor if you're concerned or if your swollen lymph nodes:
Jan. 02, 2014
- Have appeared for no apparent reason
- Continue to enlarge or have been present for two to four weeks
- Feel hard or rubbery, or don't move when you push on them
- Are accompanied by persistent fever, night sweats or unexplained weight loss
- Are accompanied by a sore throat or by difficulty swallowing or breathing
- 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.
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