Swollen Lymph Nodes - Causes

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What are the causes of swollen lymph nodes?

There are may causes for swollen lymph nodes, sometimes referred to as "swollen glands" (lymphadenopathy or lymphadenitis). In general, lymph nodes become swollen when they are active either due to an infection, inflammation, or cancer.

Infections

Infections are the most common causes of swollen lymph nodes. Common infectious causes of swollen lymph nodes are viral, bacterial, parasites, and fungal. The most common cause of swollen lymph nodes is viral upper respiratory infections such as the common cold.

Viruses

  • Infectious mononucleosis (mono)
  • Chickenpox
  • Measles
  • HIV
  • Herpes
  • Common cold viruses
  • Adenovirus
  • Many other viruses

Bacteria

  • Streptococcus
  • Staphylococcus
  • Cat scratch disease
  • Syphilis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Chlamydia
  • Other sexually transmitted diseases

Parasites

  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Leishmaniasis

Fungal

  • Coccidiomycosis
  • Histoplasmosis

Inflammation

Inflammatory and immunologic causes of swollen lymph nodes include diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus as well as sensitivity to some medications.

Cancer

Many cancers can also cause swelling of lymph nodes. These may be cancers that originate from the lymph nodes or blood cells such as lymphomas and leukemias. They may also be cancers that spread from another organ in the body (metastatic cancers). For example, breast cancer may spread to the nearest lymph nodes in the underarm (axilla), or lung cancer may spread to the lymph nodes around the collar bone.

Other causes of swollen lymph nodes

There are many other less common causes of swollen nodes, such as genetic lipid storage diseases, transplant graft rejections, sarcoidosis, and many other conditions.

It is also important to mention that swollen lymph nodes are not always a sign of an underlying disease. Sometimes they can be normal. For example, small (less than 1 centimeter), flat lymph nodes under the jaw (submandibular lymph nodes) in healthy children and young adults or small (up to 2 centimeters), groin lymph nodes (inguinal lymph nodes) in young individuals may be normal.

In many instances, a definitive cause for swollen lymph nodes may not be determined even after performing through examination and testing.

Return to Swollen Lymph Nodes

See what others are saying

Comment from: Flaggirl, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: December 13

I have had fibromyalgia for many years and Sjogren's syndrome for a couple of years. Both are autoimmune diseases and fibromyalgia really messes with collagen. Sjogren's identifies the destruction of at least parts of nodes. I suspect the two work together to enhance the destructiveness.

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Comment from: Rossi, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: March 19

I"m a little bit worried about the swollen lymph node that I have on my left side of my neck. Back in November of 2013 I had the flu and I noticed that swollen node around the left side of my neck, so I went to my doctor and she said that it was going to go away soon. After a month and half I went back to see if she could run some other test and she did. First she did an x-ray and she couldn"t see anything so she send me again to do CT scan and after a week I called her for the results and I was really upset because she said the lymph node was around 2 centimeters. But she thinks it is just fat tissue and nothing else to worry, but she said if you still concerned about it you can go to a specialist I can refer you to. But it's been almost 2 months after she told me that and the swollen lymph node still there.

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