Adenitis, a general term used to refer to lymphadenitis, means inflammation of the lymphatic system. Lymphadenitis is an enlargement in one or more lymph nodes, usually due to an infection, and is rarely caused by cancer.
Lymph nodes are small, firm structures that contain white blood cells (WBCs). They become tender and enlarged when there is an infection in the surrounding structures or anywhere in the body. The infection can be due to a bacterium, a virus or fungus. These enlarged, infected lymph nodes can be felt below your jaw, behind your ears, in your underarms and your groin area.
What are the types of adenitis?
Doctors generally classify adenitis based on its location, which includes the following types:
- Cervical adenitis: Refers to inflammation of a lymph node in the neck.
- Tuberculous adenitis (scrofula): Refers to infection on the skin of the neck caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is the most common microbe that causes tuberculosis in humans.
- Mesenteric adenitis: Refers to inflammation of the mesenteric lymph nodes in the abdomen with signs and symptoms that include sore throat, fever, right lower abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
- Sebaceous adenitis: Refers to inflammation of the sebaceous glands in the skin, which normally produce sebum or skin oil.
What are the symptoms of lymphadenitis?
The main symptom of adenitis is enlarged lymph nodes—the size of the lymph node is greater than half an inch. You may also notice other signs, such as:
- Fever with chills
- Visible bumps (lymph nodes)
- Tenderness in the lymph nodes
- Redness of the skin over and near the lymph nodes
- Abscess in the lymph nodes (pus-filled lymph nodes)
- Discharge (fluid drainage) in the lymph nodes
You should always see a doctor if you experience any of the signs and symptoms described above. Adenitis may be a sign of other medical conditions, such as an abdominal infection or tuberculosis.
How is lymphadenitis diagnosed?
Your doctor will first take your proper history and perform a complete physical exam. They will also usually ask you about:
- How your symptoms started
- Whether you have a fever with chills
- Any recent travel
- Any skin injury
- Recent exposure to cats or other animals
Your doctor will order blood tests such as a complete blood count that may point out the infection.
Moreover, your doctor may remove a small piece of your lymph node or extract a small sample of fluid from it. They will then send this sample to the laboratory to determine the cause of your adenitis—whether it is due to infection or cancer. This procedure is known as lymph node biopsy.
When to seek urgent medical help
In severe cases, lymphadenitis can be a life-threatening condition.
Seek immediate medical attention if you experience the following symptoms:
How is lymphadenitis treated?
Your doctor will evaluate certain factors before deciding the right treatment for you, such as your:
- overall health
- medical history
- capacity to tolerate specific medicines and procedures
The doctor can initiate antibiotic therapy if an infection has caused adenitis. Tuberculosis may require multidrug therapy as per the sensitivity and susceptibility of the bacteria.
Other treatments for adenitis include: