Lymph glands (also known as lymph nodes) are pea-sized lumps of tissue which contain white blood cells. The white blood cells filter the lymphatic fluid through the body and protect you by destroying any viruses or bacteria that they find. They are an important part of the immune system and are found throughout the body.
Normally, you cannot feel your lymph glands, but if an infection or disease is present then the lymph glands can swell to a few centimetres, becoming more prominent. Swollen glands caused by an infection is known as lymphadenitis. Swollen glands (lymphadenopathy) can be found in groups in various parts of the body including under the chin, on the neck, armpits or in the groin area. The site of the swollen lymph gland may help identify the cause of your illness as you may only have one aea of lymphdenopathy.
Tenderness or pain when you press on the lymph glands
Other signs of infection such as fever, sore throat
Red, warm swollen skin over the lymph node
A lump where the lymph gland sits
Swollen lymph nodes caused by infection or inflammation are soft, tender and can easily be moved when examined.
Causes can be seen using Isabel’s symptom checker:
Strep throat / Tonsillitis: is caused by a bacterial infection and other symptoms include sudden fever, sore throat, headache and chills.
Infectious mononucleosis / Glandular fever: As well as lymphadenopathy, other characteristic symptoms are fever, fatigue, malaise and a sore throat.
Acute infectious laryngitis: Common alternative symptoms include loss of voice, hoarseness, dry throat and a dry cough.
Lung tuberculosis: Other symptoms are persistent coughing for several days, coughing up blood, fever, excessive sweating and chest pain.
Cat Scratch disease: This is a disease caused by the organism bartonella henselae. 40% of cats carry this bacteria in their saliva and it can be transmitted to humans via a cat scratch or a bite from a cat. Other symptoms include a bump or blister where the bite or scratch occurred, fatigue, headaches and low grade fever.
Toxoplasmosis: Flu like symptoms with high temperature, myalgia, tiredness and sore throat may also be present.
Viral infections such as the common cold can also cause swollen glands. Rarer causes also include some cancers including lymphomas, which originate in the lymphatic system where the lymph nodes sit, or leukemias, which originate in the bone marrow and lymphatic system.
If the lump is hard, not mobile and does not cause pain then further evaluation should be sought from your health care provider
If the lumps have appeared for no reason
If the lumps continue to enlarge or have been present for over 2 weeks
If you have other signs of infection like night sweats, fever or unexplained weight loss
If you have a sore throat, have difficulty swallowing or breathing
Take to the appointment with you the following information:
What symptoms you are experiencing
How long you have had the symptoms
Any recent travel abroad or exposure to ticks, animals, under cooked meat or high risk sexual behaviour with a new partner
List of medications and your key past medical history
Ask your doctor the following questions:
What’s causing my symptoms?
What tests do I need?
What treatment do I need?
Am I infectious, do I need to take any precautions to prevent infection to others?
When will I start to feel better?
Are they any complications I should look out for?
If the health care provider feels after examining you that they cannot clearly say your swollen lymph glands are caused by a viral infection or a bacterial disease then they may refer you for further tests such as blood tests, chest x-ray or CT scan, or a lymph node biopsy.
Treatment is determined by the cause of the swollen glands. If the health care provider recommends self-care due to the cause being viral, then over the counter pain relievers such as Advil or Tylenol may helwith your symptoms. If the glands are painful applying a warm, wet compress to the area affected will help. Rest until your body recovers.
If the cause is found to be bacterial then you may be prescribed antibiotics and should take them as instructed.
Once the underlying disease has been treated then the glands will return to their normal size and the symptoms should disappear.
Mandy has worked for Isabel Healthcare since 2000. Prior to this, she was a Senior Staff Nurse on the Pediatric Infectious disease ward and high dependency unit at one of London's top hospitals, St Mary’s in Paddington which is part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. Her experience in the healthcare industry for the past 28 years in both the UK and USA means she's a vital resource for our organization. Mandy currently lives and works in Scottsdale, Arizona.