Swollen lymph nodes


Swollen lymph nodes typically arise due to bacterial or viral infections, though they can occasionally indicate cancer. Lymph nodes, or lymph glands, are crucial for your immune system’s defense mechanism. They act as filters, capturing and neutralizing viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens, preventing them from spreading to other areas of your body.

You have around 600 lymph nodes (though the number can differ from person to person) distributed throughout your body, including in areas such as the jaw, chest, arms, abdomen, and legs, many of which are imperceptible to you.

For swollen lymph nodes, sometimes all that’s required is time and the application of warm compresses for relief. If the swelling is due to an infection, the treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause.


The lymphatic system is a network that includes organs, vessels, and lymph nodes distributed throughout the body. Many lymph nodes are found in the head and neck region, as well as in the armpits and groin area. These nodes often swell as an indicator of an underlying issue somewhere in the body.

Initial symptoms of swollen lymph nodes include:

  • Tenderness and pain
  • Swelling, which may vary in size from that of a pea to a kidney bean or larger

The causes of swollen lymph nodes can trigger additional symptoms, such as:

  • Runny nose, sore throat, fever, and other signs of an upper respiratory infection
  • Generalized swelling of lymph nodes, which could point to infections like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or mononucleosis, or immune system disorders such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hard, immobile, rapidly enlarging nodes, which may suggest cancer or lymphoma
  • Fever
  • Night sweats

Consultation with a healthcare provider is advised under certain circumstances. If lymph nodes swell without an obvious reason, continue to grow or have been present for two to four weeks, feel hard or rubbery, or are immobile, it is prudent to seek medical advice. Additional symptoms that warrant immediate medical attention include persistent fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, or if there is difficulty swallowing or breathing.


The human body has many lymph nodes, approximately 600 in total, situated in regions such as the jaw, chest, arms, abdomen, and legs. These nodes form clusters, each responsible for draining a specific bodily area.

Swelling in specific areas such as the neck, under the chin, armpits, and groin is often more noticeable. Swollen lymph nodes are commonly found near the site of infection. The upper respiratory tract infection is the leading cause of lymph node swelling in the neck. However, infections, especially viral ones like the common cold, are typically responsible for swollen lymph nodes.

Swollen lymph nodes can be caused by various factors, such as:

  • Common infections: This includes severe infections like HIV, as well as common infections such as strep throat, sinus infection, skin wounds, measles, ear infections, and mononucleosis.
  • Uncommon infections: Less common infections causing swollen lymph nodes include toxoplasmosis which stems from contact with infected cat feces or undercooked meat, cat scratch fever, a bacterial infection transmitted through cat scratches or bites, tuberculosis, and certain sexually transmitted infections like syphilis.
  • Immune system disorders: This includes rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • Cancers: Cancer can cause swollen lymph nodes, with types like lymphoma originating in the lymphatic system, leukemia affecting blood-forming tissues like bone marrow and lymph nodes, and other cancers spreading to the lymph nodes after metastasizing from elsewhere in the body.
  • Other causes: Malaria preventive drugs, and certain drugs, such as the anti-seizure drug phenytoin are potential but uncommon causes of swollen lymph node.

Risk factors

Several factors may contribute to one’s risk of having swollen lymph nodes, such as:

  • Age: Cancer, immune system issues, and infections all become more likely as people age.
  • Compromised immune system: Infection risk is increased in those with compromised immune systems. This may result from an immune-suppressive medication or an infection.
  • Behaviors associated with increased risk: Sexually transmitted illnesses, including HIV, are more likely to occur in situations where unprotected sexual activity and drug injection take place.