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.

Return to Swollen Lymph Nodes

See what others are saying

Comment from: TS, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: November 11

First things first; if you do research and start reading medical reports on cat scratch disease, some will say 1 episode confers lifelong immunity. Not true. I am currently suffering from my 2nd infection from it, almost 25 years from after the 1st infection. The first time I had pneumonia/flu type symptoms, and went on Cipro within 48 hours. I don't recall how long it took it to be fully resolved. But the symptoms were limited to coughing, high fever, headaches, swollen glands near ears, pain in throat. This time, the symptoms are remarkably different; low-grade fevers, swollen lymph nodes in the back of neck and in the arms, terrible arm pain originating from near elbows, ulcerations under the eyelids with eye pain, pain in throat, migraine headaches, and abdominal pain, anxiety and agitation. I'm now entering the 3rd month, and I am not doing antibiotics this time, but rather just vitamins, supplements and a variety of other helpful herbs and natural food items. Everything has pretty much abated except for the arm pain.

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Comment from: Madmum, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: February 24

For a couple of years I've been aware that my glands on the left side of my neck have been swollen. Then about 12 months ago they became very painful so I went to my general physician (GP). The GP sent me for an ultra sound on my neck. When I went back for the results the GP didn't know what they meant so he sent me to see a consultant at ENT department. On my first visit he did another ultra sound, which found that the lymph nodes were quite big. On noticing how big they were he did an on-the-spot needle biopsy, which wasn't very pleasant, in fact very painful! On my next visit for my results he reassured me that there wasn't anything sinister going on but that he could operate to remove them. On my next visit in March he is going to give me another ultra sound to see if they have grown any.

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