Symptoms and Signs of Swollen Lymph Nodes

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/25/2022

Doctor's Notes on Swollen Lymph Nodes

Swollen lymph nodes occur when the lymph nodes, which filter lymph fluid and form white blood cells to fight infection, are enlarged. Lymph nodes are sometimes referred to by laypersons as lymph glands, and swollen lymph nodes may be called “swollen glands.” Infection is the main cause of swollen lymph nodes. Spread of cancer to lymph nodes is a less common cause of lymph node swelling. Lymph nodes can trap cancer cells that have spread into the lymphatic vessels.

Swollen lymph nodes can occur in one area or region of the body, or they may be found throughout the body, depending upon the cause. The neck, groin, and armpits are areas where swollen lymph nodes may be apparent.

Associated symptoms depend the cause and may include fever and chills in the case of infection, and symptoms specific to the tumor type in the case of cancer. If the lymph nodes are enlarged and inflamed (known as lymphadenitis), the nodes may be painful or tender to the touch.

What Is the Treatment for Swollen Lymph Nodes?

Treatment for swollen lymph nodes depends on the cause and may include:

  • Antibiotics for bacterial infection, which is a common cause of swollen lymph nodes
  • Medications to control pain and fever for infections or inflammation
  • Use of warm compresses on the affected region, which may decrease pain and pressure
  • Therapies specifically directed at cancers or tumors, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapies

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.