Lymphadenitis is a condition in which your lymph nodes become inflamed. When the condition affects the lymph nodes in the membrane that connects your bowel to the abdominal wall (mesentery), it's called mesenteric lymphadenitis (mez-un-TER-ik lim-fad-uh-NIE-tis).
Mesenteric lymphadenitis, which is also called mesenteric adenitis, usually results from an intestinal infection. It mainly affects children and teens. This painful condition can mimic the warning signs of appendicitis. Unlike appendicitis, mesenteric lymphadenitis is seldom serious and usually clears up on its own.
Signs and symptoms of mesenteric lymphadenitis may include:
- Abdominal pain, often centered on the lower, right side, but the pain can sometimes be more widespread
- General abdominal tenderness
Depending on what's causing the ailment, other signs and symptoms may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- General feeling of being unwell (malaise)
When to see a doctor
Abdominal pain is common in children and teens, and it can be hard to know when it's a problem that needs medical attention.
In general, call your doctor right away if your child has episodes of:
- Sudden, severe abdominal pain
- Abdominal pain with fever
- Abdominal pain with diarrhea or vomiting
In addition, call your doctor if your child has episodes of the following signs and symptoms that don't get better over a short time:
- Abdominal pain with a change in bowel habits
- Abdominal pain with loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Abdominal pain that interferes with sleep
The most common cause of swollen mesenteric lymphadenitis is a viral infection, such as gastroenteritis — often called stomach flu. This infection causes the lymph nodes in the mesentery — the thin tissue that attaches your intestine to the back of your abdominal wall — to become inflamed.
Your lymph nodes play a vital role in your body's ability to fight off illness. They're scattered throughout your body to trap and destroy viruses, bacteria and other harmful organisms. In the process, the nodes closest to the infection can become sore and swollen — for instance, the lymph nodes in your neck may swell when you have a sore throat. Other nodes that commonly swell are located under your chin and in your armpits and groin.
Some children develop an upper respiratory infection before or during a bout of mesenteric lymphadenitis. Experts think there may be a link between the two.
If swollen lymph nodes are caused by a serious bacterial infection that isn't treated, the bacteria could spread to your bloodstream, causing a potentially life-threatening infection (sepsis).