The lymph nodes are an important and integral part of our immune system. The lymph nodes are linked together in chains. Lymph is an aqueous fluid that flows through vessels called lymphatic vessels. Lymph nodes consist of a certain type of immune cells, called mainly lymphocytes. The role of these lymphocytes is to stop and fight viruses.
Swollen lymph nodes commonly occur, usually in response to some active bacterial, viral, or fungal infection, or due to the presence of an inflammatory disease or cancer. Once the underlying cause is addressed, the swollen lymph nodes will shrink. However, it is advisable to bring any lymph node enlargement to the healthcare professional’s warning to rule out the chances of cancer.
The lymph nodes are present throughout the body but can only be visible or felt when they are swollen or enlarged. The lymph nodes represent a specific region in which they are located. Thus, each group of lymph nodes represents the abnormalities in this specific region of the body. For example, enlarged or swollen lymph nodes in the head and neck region may be indicative of ear, tooth, viral disease, or upper respiratory tract infection. Similarly, the group of enlarged or swollen lymph nodes in the groin may be suggesting an infection in the inguinal region or in any organ around that region. When lymph nodes throughout the body are usually swollen, it is known as generalized lymphadenopathy. This may not be limiting to just one infection and may be a more serious matter.
The lymph nodes are present throughout the body, some deep and some superficial. The areas where lymph nodes are easily visible or palpable if swollen are head and neck, armpit, arms, inguinal or groin area and behind the knees.
Many infections cause swollen lymph nodes, some most common are throat infections, ear infections, dental infections, upper respiratory tract infections, and more severe ones such as HIV , lymphomas, lupus , etc. Common symptoms like pain, swelling and fever are noted we are enlarged.
Causes of Swollen Lymph Nodes
The lymph nodes may become swollen due to many causes. This is known as lymphadenopathy or lymphadenitis. Generally, lymph nodes can be said to become swollen when they are actively fighting any infection caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, or due to inflammation or cancer.
The most common cause of swollen lymph nodes is a viral infection, the most common being the common cold. Other viral infections include chicken pox, measles, herpes, HIV and adenovirus, etc.
Other infections, such as bacterial, fungal and parasitic, are also responsible for enlargement of the lymph nodes. Bacterial infections such as streptococci, staphylococci, tuberculosis, syphilis, STDs are the most common responsible for enlarged lymph nodes.
Fungal infections like histoplasmosis and parasitic infection like toxoplasmosis are also commonly responsible for enlarged lymph nodes.
Sometimes other inflammatory diseases and cancers are responsible for swollen lymph nodes. Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are the most common inflammatory diseases that can cause enlarged lymph nodes.
Many cancers are also related to enlarged lymph nodes. Some cancers may start in lymph nodes, such as Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, while some may start in some other organ but spread to lymph nodes, such as breast cancer.
Treatment for swollen lymph nodes
Because swollen lymph nodes are the result of some underlying cause, there is no definite treatment as such for swollen lymph nodes. The responsible cause must be treated and the swollen lymph nodes will be eliminated. For symptomatic relief such as lymph node pain, some OTC medications may be taken. For relief, certain home remedies, such as hot compress, may be used. For the infection that is responsible for enlarged lymph nodes, the corresponding treatment should be used.