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Swollen Lymph Glands (cont.)

Swollen Lymph Nodes Symptoms

  • The symptoms of swollen lymph nodes depend upon both the location and cause of the enlargement.
  • Patients may experience symptoms of an upper respiratory infection (runny nose, sore throat, fever) and feel slightly tender or painful nodes under the skin around the ears, under the chin, or on the upper part of the neck under the jaw.
  • Sometimes there may be a skin infection or redness and streaking of the skin, and one may feel an enlarged node in the vicinity in the direction toward the heart.
  • Swelling of a lymph node located deep inside the body may have different consequences from swelling of those just under the skin. The blockage in the flow of lymph from swelling in a deeper node may cause a swelling of a limb or, for example, swelling of lymph nodes in the lung could cause a chronic cough, even though you would not be able to feel a swollen node in that location.
  • Generalized swelling of lymph nodes throughout the body may occur due to infection, systemic inflammation, or cancer.

How to Test Swollen Lymph Nodes

  • The doctor will ask the person about any associated symptoms and perform a physical examination.
  • Depending on the extent of the problem, the doctor may order blood tests, X-rays, and a CT scan of the affected area.
  • On follow-up, a biopsy of the swollen node may be needed. A sample of the tissue may be taken out by withdrawing cells from the lymph node with a thin needle (fine needle aspiration or biopsy). In other cases a lymph node itself or a portion of a lymph node may be removed for examination. In all these cases the tissue is examined by a pathologist under a microscope to determine the cause of the swelling.

When to Seek Medical Care

Inflamed lymph nodes themselves are generally not a major concern, but if you have symptoms of another condition along with enlarged lymph nodes, consult your doctor:

  • If the swelling of the nodes lasts for more than two weeks or you have symptoms such as weight loss, night sweats, fatigue, or fever
  • If the nodes are hard, fixed to the skin, do not move, or are growing rapidly
  • If you can feel swelling close to your collarbone or in the lower part of the neck
  • If the overlying skin is red and inflamed and you suspect an infection

The diagnosis of swollen lymph nodes rarely requires emergency hospital treatment. The exceptions to this include a growing infection of the skin that requires treatment, a severely infected lymph node that needs to be drained, or severe pain. If a swollen lymph node in the neck makes breathing or swallowing difficult, seek medical treatment immediately.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/30/2017

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