What are Enlarged Lymph Nodes?

Mary McMahon

Enlarged lymph nodes are lymph nodes that are somewhat larger than normal. There are many different reasons for lymph nodes to become enlarged. It is sometimes necessary to seek medical treatment for enlarged lymph nodes and in other cases treatment at home is sufficient. People who do notice changes in the size of their lymph nodes should monitor them for continued changes and should also assess for other symptoms which may be tell-tale signs of a problem.

Swollen lymph nodes are one of the first signs of illness.
Swollen lymph nodes are one of the first signs of illness.

The lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system, a network which spans the body and is often compared to the circulatory system. Lymph plays a role in the immune system, helping the body fight infection, remove waste materials, and isolate infectious materials. The lymph nodes usually become enlarged when the body is fighting something off. Once the situation is resolved, the nodes gradually decrease in size as the body eliminates the wastes trapped inside.

Lymph nodes in the head and neck.
Lymph nodes in the head and neck.

A common cause for enlarged lymph nodes is an infection. When an infection is present in the body, the lymph nodes swell with waste and infectious materials as the immune system fights the infection. Usually the nodes in proximity to the infection swell first. Lymph nodes can also become swollen when people develop lymphoma and in response to other medical issues. The nodes may also feel hard or hot to the touch.

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Lymph nodes usually become swollen due to bacterial or viral infections.
Lymph nodes usually become swollen due to bacterial or viral infections.

People can feel some of their lymph nodes with physical palpation. The nodes around the head and neck as well as the groin are usually easy to feel and changes in size can be easily detected. Sometimes swollen lymph nodes are also painful, and may cause difficulty swallowing, in the case of nodes in the neck. In other cases, enlarged lymph nodes are located in areas which cannot easily be palpated and they may only be detectable during surgery or with medical imaging studies.

If someone has enlarged lymph nodes, this is not necessarily an immediate cause for concern. However, enlargement accompanied with symptoms like an altered level of consciousness, pain, fatigue, persistent coughing which does not resolve, and fever can be a sign that someone needs medical help. A doctor can conduct an examination, recommend diagnostic tests, and determine what is causing the lymph node enlargement. With a diagnosis, the doctor can start to explore treatment options, which may range from removing nodes which have become cancerous to prescribing antibiotics to help the body fight an infection.

A sexually transmitted disease may cause swollen lymph nodes in the groin.
A sexually transmitted disease may cause swollen lymph nodes in the groin.

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