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Swollen glands: causes and warning symptoms

Swollen glands: causes and warning symptoms

May 19, 2024

"I have swollen glands." This phrase is very common to hear, and is usually accompanied by a self-test on both sides of the neck and in the lower part of the jaw.

It is an inflammation is in most cases benign, but sometimes may be indicating the presence of some serious pathology. In this article we are going to explore lymphadenopathy or swollen lymph nodes, its causes and the most relevant warning symptoms.

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What are the ganglia?

The lymph nodes or lymph nodes are a series of structures through which the lymph circulates. They are responsible for filtering this substance, so that prevent bacteria or viruses from spreading through the lymphatic system , to later integrate it into the blood vessels.

The lymphatic system can be considered part of the immune system , since another one of the great functions of the lymphatic ganglia is to contain the lymphocytes that fight against the infections and the entrance of pathogenic elements in the organism. This is very relevant when contributing to the body's immune activity, but it also has important functions in absorbing the lymph nutrients from the digestive system to later direct them to the veins and maintain a balance in the interstitial fluid level.

These ganglia are distributed in chains throughout the body, being some of the areas most known by most of the population those of the neck (below the chin, on both sides), armpits and ingles.También in the abdomen or the chest. But the lymph nodes may become infected and swell for some reason .

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Lymphadenopathy or swollen lymph nodes

Sometimes the ganglia can get to suffer some type of anomaly that makes them swell. This alteration is called lymphadenopathy, and can appear in a single node or in a chain or expand to the system as a whole.

The inflammation of the ganglia usually generates harmful and annoying symptoms. Specifically, it usually appears in addition to the bulge of the ganglion itself the presence of heat sensation, redness and increased sensitivity in the area . It is also very common for fever, weight loss, sweating and pain in the area where the lymph node or swollen lymph nodes are located. It is also frequent that appetite is reduced and tiredness and respiratory alterations appear.

Most people have suffered at some point in their life some type of lymphadenopathy due to one or another cause: it is a phenomenon that can occur at any age and under any condition, but which is especially frequent in childhood. Having swollen lymph nodes it is not a disorder or disease itself , but rather it is a symptom of the existence of an infection or problem of some kind.

Possible causes of inflammation

In general, the vast majority of people with swollen lymph nodes have them due to the presence of mild alterations, usually due to a viral or bacterial infection.

Some frequent causes are the presence of infections like the flu, the affliction of pharyngitis or tonsillitis . Some diseases that also appear are varicella and measles, mononucleosis or rubella. Sometimes the inflammation is maintained for a time even when the subject has finished rejecting a previous infection.

Another possible cause of having swollen lymph nodes may be lack of adequate and complete nutrition, as well as lack of rest and high stress. It is also possible that it appears as side effect of the consumption of certain medications .

However, not all causes of lymph node inflammation are so relatively mild. And it is also lymphadenopathy appears in diseases as serious as cancer (for example, a lymphoma or cancer of the breast, lung or testicle), malaria, lupus or venereal diseases such as HIV infection (in AIDS) or syphilis. Also, diseases such as bubonic plague also caused this inflammation.

Should I be worried? Warning symptoms

Although, as we have said before, lymphadenopathies usually have causes that are not very serious and tend to disappear easily, the truth is that they can also be a symptom of a serious health problem that could even be endangering our lives.

That is why it is always advisable to go to the doctor at the time that lymphadenopathy appears to ensure its causes and receive treatment , although we consider that the cause may be slight.

However, it is especially urgent to consult a professional when the lymph nodes are inflamed in situations in which no fever has appeared, it is hard to the touch or it is detected that the ganglion has presented a sudden great growth. Although it seems contradictory, if the inflammation appears without there being any type of pain it can also be worrisome. Also, if the inflammation lasts for more than a month after the disappearance of the infection that caused it must go to consultation .

It must also be taken into account if the inflammation appears as hard and rigid or on the contrary are mobile. Although the second case is common in infectious processes the existence of great rigidity could speak of a serious disease, such as cancer.

The size of the ganglion is one of the criteria to take into account : if they exceed four centimeters, we can face an important infection.

Finally, we must also take into account the area in which the ganglion is infected. For example, having swollen neck nodes is not uncommon and in many cases the causes are usually not serious. The inguinals are usually related to infections of the lower limbs or sexually transmitted diseases. Talking about those located in the clavicle Regardless of their characteristics, they require a quick visit to consult, since they tend to be dangerous and may be linked to suffering from some type of cancer.


The treatment of inflamed lymph nodes will depend to a large extent on their cause. In general, antibiotics will be prescribed to treat an infection, and / or analgesic medication to calm the pain while the infection subsides.

In other cases, a possible drainage of the lymph nodes may be necessary, a specific treatment to treat autoimmune disorders or start the treatment of problems such as cancer to confirm the diagnosis.

Bibliographic references:

  • Fauci, A. (2008). Harrison: Principles of Internal Medicine. 17th Edition. McGraw-Hill; Interamericana of Mexico.

Swollen Lymph Nodes | Auburn Medical Group (May 2024).

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