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Causes of Swollen Lymph Nodes

Author:   Peter Sedesse MD

General Causes of Swollen Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes are located throughout the body and are connected by a series of ducts, all of which make up the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is responsible for the drainage of interstitial fluids, which are fluids located outside cells. The body’s response against foreign material relies on the lymphatic system a great deal. While lymph nodes are located all over the body, the lymph nodes in the groin, armpits and under the chin are the ones associated with swelling most often. Fluid that drains from the head, arms and legs are collected in these nodes. The production of antibodies and macrophages that foreign materials are engulfed by is done by lymphocytes contained in these lymph nodes. Swollen lymph nodes indicate that a bacterial or viral infection is present in the lymph node or sometimes a more serious condition like cancer could be present.

Symptoms of Swollen Lymph Nodes

A swollen lymph node typically appears secondary to an infection such as a cold that has already occurred. A cut or burn that breaks the skin’s integrity and results in infection can also lead to swollen lymph nodes. It is not always directly noticeable when lymph nodes found deeper in the body become swollen but problems can result if they block the ducts ability to drain. The area the ducts serve will become swollen when this occurs which is typically the first sign there is a swollen lymph node in the body’s interior.

Treatments for Swollen Lymph Nodes

The treatment of swollen lymph nodes consists of helping the body fight off the cause of the infection in the lymph node. Antiviral medications or antibiotics can help. Also, making sure nutrition levels and water consumption are maintained since the immune systems proper functioning relies on these. The resolution of the swollen lymph node typically occurs before the relief of the infection’s other symptoms.

Cancer as a Cause of Swollen Lymph Nodes

Cancer is the most dangerous cause of a swollen lymph node. Swollen lymph nodes will directly result from three types of cancer. Cancer of the lymphocytes found inside the swollen gland is the first two causes. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Hodgkin’s disease are the names of these types of cancers. The prognosis and treatment are different for these two types of cancer even though they affect the same cell type.

A secondary tumor is the final cancer type that can result in swollen lymph nodes. When a cancerous tumor located somewhere else in the body has cells that break off from the main tumor and travel through the lymph system, later becoming lodged in the lymph node and grow there as a new, secondary tumor. The cells present in the tumor will be the same type of cells as those in the primary tumor and not of lymphocytes normally found in the lymph node. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery are included among cancer treatments.

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