Swollen Lymph Nodes: When to see Doctor? Complications & Treatment

Alternative names: Swollen lymph glands, Lymphadenopathy, Swollen glands, Swollen nodes.

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Swollen Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped glands present throughout the body, which are significant to the immune system. Usually, neither the nodes can be felt (except for those present in the neck, armpit, behind ears, and in the groin region), nor do they pain. They swell and enlarge under different circumstances, most commonly due to infections.

The function of Lymph nodes 

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Lymph nodes filter the lymph to make it free from dead cells, cellular waste, etc. The nodes are a storehouse of lymphocytes or white blood cells (B – cells and T-cells) that form the body’s primary immune organs. 

Symptoms associated swollen lymph nodes

The swelling of lymph nodes is a symptom, and you can sense it in specific parts of your body. There are substantial pain and tenderness associated with the swollen lymph glands. 

Depending upon the reason behind the swelling, other symptoms are: 

Causes of swollen lymph nodes

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Lymph nodes can swell in one or more areas simultaneously, and it is a symbol that the glands are fighting an infection. 

The reasons for swollen lymph nodes are:

  • Injury in the area near the lymph gland
  • The swelling of lymph nodes may happen due to broad range of bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, which include: Respiratory tract infections, influenza, common cold, chickenpox, herpes, measles, mumps, HIV, adenovirus, tuberculosis, syphilis, STDs, mouth sores, tonsillitis, tooth abscess, skin infections, etc. 
  • Cancers: Leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, testicular cancer, lung cancer, etc.
  • Typhoid immunization vaccine, seizure medications

Diagnosis of swollen lymph nodes 

  • Physical examination: Doctors inquire about medical history, evaluate the symptoms, check the glands for size, the intensity of swelling, and how they feel in general. He may then suggest the following tests for an in-depth diagnosis.
  • Medical Tests: The doctor may do tests like Blood tests (CBC) for detecting infections, CT scan, chest x-ray, liver and kidney function tests, and liver, spleen scan. 
  • Lymph node biopsy – a tissue sample is taken from the lymph node to diagnose for cancers and infections like tuberculosis.

Treatment of swollen lymph nodes 

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There’s no treatment as such specific for the swollen nodes; nonetheless, painkillers may be prescribed to alleviate the pain. 

Infections are treated with medication, and the swelling goes away automatically with it. In this regard, antibiotics are mostly given by doctors. 

The treatment is directed towards treating autoimmune disorders, and so is with cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery are some options for treating cancer. 

When to see a doctor?

You must see your doctor if you sense pain and swelling in those regions where the presence of lymph nodes can be felt. Any of those symptoms, if persist for more than 2-3 days, need doctor’s check-up. 

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Your medical visits will continue until your doctor assures that you have recovered.

Health complications of swollen lymph nodes

It would help if you never neglected the symptoms because you never know what the underlying reason could be. Delay in treatment might spread the infection in the blood, giving rise to a fatal disease- bacteremia (sepsis). The infection can easily support the formation of abscess inside the body and thereby making the treatment much more complicated. 

If you have hidden cancer, then delay in treatment can make a recovery impossible. 

The swelling takes one week to several weeks to disappear, quite obviously depending on the cause. Meanwhile, you can protect yourself from cold and restrict from eating spicy food, cold drinks, ice creams, etc. 

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