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 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.


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


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


  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Leishmaniasis


  • Coccidiomycosis
  • Histoplasmosis


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


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.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: worried, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: June 08

I have swollen glands under my ears, along jaw bone had blood work done. I don't have HIV and my doctor says it is due to allergies. But it has been there for 4 months and I am really worried. I have no pain but the lymph nodes swell big when I am lying down, and when up and walking around they go down. I wonder if it is really glands or sinus drain. I also have arthritis in my shoulder.

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Comment from: dogone, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: July 21

My eustachian tubes are blocked. Because of chronic sinusitis and repeated ear infections, I am having tubes surgically put in my ears. During this period of time I found the lymph nodes highest in my neck to be sore and swollen doubtless dealing with the surrounding infections.

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