Lymph glands, also referred to as lymph nodes, form a part the lymphatic system, which aids the body's immune system and protects the body against infection. Hence, when one has swollen lymph glands, it could signify an infection. Lymph nodes occur all over the body, although they bunch together in groups in certain parts of the body, such as the neck, the armpits, and the groin. These are joined together by channels, which form a network, through which a fluid called lymph is finally drained into the bloodstream. Lymph actually contains lymphocytes, or white blood cells and chyle. Enlarged nodes usually occur in the groin, the armpits, in the neck, and under the chin.
In their normal state, lymph nodes are the size of peas, which can sometimes be felt beneath the skin, especially when they become swollen, when they can become as large as marbles, or even larger. They are usually caused due to an infection, especially a viral infection like the common cold. However, there are various other kinds of infection that can cause them, like bacterial infections and parasitic infections.
Infections that occur commonly:
- Streptococcal infection of the throat
- Infection in the ear
- Tooth abscess
- Infected wound
- Glandular fever
Other types of infections:
- A fever caused due to a bite or scratch from a cat
- Toxoplasmosis, which is an infection caused by parasites being transmitted to humans from infected cats, or due to consuming meat that is undercooked
- Diseases that are transmitted sexually, like syphilis
- Tuberculosis, and infection caused due to ingesting or inhaling the tubercle bacilli
Disorders of the immune system
- HIV, or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which causes AIDS
- Rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the synovial tissues of the joints
- Lupus, an inflammatory disease that is chronic and affects the lungs, heart, blood cells, kidneys, skin, and joints
Various types of cancers
- Leukemia, a malignancy of the tissues that form blood in the body, such as the lymphatic system and the bone marrow
- Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph tissue
Other causes that may be possible, although rare, are the result of certain medicines, like phenytoin prescribed for seizures, immunization against certain diseases like malaria, sarcoidosis, which is another chronic disease that results in the formation of nodules in the lymph glands, salivary glands, lungs and liver, Kawasaki disease, and diseases of glycogen storage.
Generally, enlarged lymph glands caused by infections develop faster than those caused by cancers like leukemia and lymphoma. They also have the tendency of being pain-free at the initial stages.
Symptoms and Treatment
Usually, when enlarged lymph glands are palpated, they can feel painful and tender. Some of the other symptoms that may also occur are:
- Signs of infection of the upper respiratory system such as sore throat, runny nose, along with fever.
- Swollen lymph glands all over the body, pointing to infections like mononucleosis or HIV, disorders of the immune system, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
- Red inflammation of the skin on the swollen lymph gland.
- Swelling of the limbs, indicative of the blockage of the lymph system due to a lymph node swelling, which occurs too deep beneath the skin to be felt.
- The rapid growth of nodes, which become fixed and hardened, indicative of a tumor, which is rare.
The treatment for enlarged lymph glands will be based on the cause. Generally, all you will require will be over-the-counter pain medications along with warm compresses. However, if the causes are more serious, the underlying problem will have to be treated, which a doctor will diagnose and then devise a treatment plan accordingly.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.