Lymph node swelling explained

If you’re feeling rundown or sick, you may notice your lymph nodes are swollen. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that filter lymphatic fluid and help your body to fight infection and disease. Lymph nodes are a part of your body’s immune system. There are hundreds of them throughout your body, primarily located in the neck, armpits and groin area.

If you can feel that your lymph nodes are swollen, it is likely that your body is working to fight off illness or infection, though there are a range of reasons they may be enlarged or tender.

Sexually transmitted diseases
A number of STDs can cause your lymph nodes to swell. Swollen lymphs in your neck, groin or head can be an early symptom of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Other STDs like syphilis and genital herpes can also cause the lymph nodes in your groin to swell, while gonorrhoea can cause the swelling of lymphs in your neck and groin. Lymphogranuloma venereum is an STD caused by chlamydia trachomatis, which can cause swollen, painful lymph nodes in the groin.

Swollen lymph nodes are a known side-effect of phenytoin, a medication used to treat epilepsy.

Pink eye
Viral conjunctivitis, a highly contagious infection, can cause your lymph nodes to swell. Pink eye is caused by a virus and may be triggered by the common virus that causes colds, meaning the two sometimes occur in tandem.

Lymphoma is the general term for cancer that starts in your lymph nodes. It is the fifth most common cancer in Australia and is the most common type of blood cancer. There are more than 80 different subtypes of lymphoma. In Australia, 6000 people are diagnosed with lymphoma every year, and 1500 people die from it each year. Over the past 20 years, cases of lymphoma have more than doubled. There is no known cause for this dramatic increase in cases.

Upper respiratory infection
Swollen, sensitive or painful lymph nodes in your neck can be a sign that you have an infection in your throat, sinuses or nose.

Dental damage
Infections in your teeth, caused by injuries, cavities or dental work, can cause the lymph nodes in the neck and below your jaw line to swell.

Scrofula is a type of tuberculosis that can cause the lymph nodes in your neck to become firm and feel rubbery to touch. While this swelling is generally not painful, it may occur alongside fever, chills and other symptoms.

Herpes zoster, also known as shingles, is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox and can live in your body for years, remerging in your adulthood. The earliest symptom is pain caused by a rash and often experienced alongside a headache and fever. The lymph nodes that help to drain the affected area often become enlarged. 

Skin infections on your scalp can also cause the lymph nodes in your neck to swell. Scalp ringworm or impetigo – which usually effects the skin on the face – can break out on your scalp, triggering a reaction in your lymph nodes.

Have you ever noticed your lymph nodes becoming swollen or tender? Is your lymphatic system particularly responsive to illness?

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Liv Gardiner


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