What is lymphadenitis?
Lymphadenitis is the medical term for inflamed and enlarged lymph nodes. It is usually
due to an infection. Lymph nodes are filled with white blood cells that help your
body fight infections. When lymph nodes become infected, it's usually because an infection
started somewhere else in your body. Less often, lymph nodes can enlarge due to cancer.
You have about 600 lymph nodes in your body. But normally, lymph nodes may be felt
only below your jaw, under your arms, and in your groin area.
A normal lymph node is small and soft. When lymph nodes become infected, they usually
increase in size, become sore, and may be felt in other areas of your body during
a physical exam.
Infections that spread to lymph nodes are usually caused by bacteria, a virus, or
a fungus. It is important to learn how the infection spread into your lymph nodes
so that the right treatment can be started.
Lymphadenitis can be one of two types:
Localized lymphadenitis. This is the most common type. Localized lymphadenitis involves one or just a few nodes
that are close to the area where the infection started. For example, nodes enlarged
because of a tonsil infection may be felt in the neck area.
Generalized lymphadenitis. This type of lymph node infection occurs in two or more lymph node groups. It may
be caused by an infection that spreads through the bloodstream or another illness
that affects the whole body.
What causes lymphadenitis?
Lymphadenitis occurs when one or more lymph nodes are infected by bacteria, a virus,
or a fungus. When lymph nodes become infected, it's often because an infection started
somewhere in your body.
What are the symptoms of lymphadenitis?
Lymphadenitis mainly causes enlarged, sore lymph nodes. A lymph node is considered
enlarged if it is about 1/2 inch wide. Symptoms caused by an infected lymph node or
group of nodes may include:
Nodes that increase in size
Nodes that are painful to touch
Nodes that are soft or matted together
Redness or red streaking of the skin over nodes
Nodes that are filled with pus (an abscess)
Fluid that drains from the nodes to the skin
These symptoms may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider
for a diagnosis.
How is lymphadenitis diagnosed?
If you have lymphadenitis, your healthcare provider will ask about your health history
and give you a physical exam. You may be asked about your symptoms, such as chills
and fever, any recent travel, any breaks in your skin, and recent contact with cats
or other animals. During the exam, your healthcare provider will look for signs of
infection near the enlarged lymph nodes.
These tests may be needed to help make the diagnosis:
Drawing blood to look for an infection
Checking for germs at another site of the body that may appear infected near the lymph
nodes. These tests include a throat culture, culture of pus from a wound, or checking
for sexually transmitted infections.
Taking a sample of tissue from the lymph node or fluid from inside the lymph node
to study under a microscope
Placing fluid from the lymph node into a culture to see what type of germs grow
How is lymphadenitis treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend
on how severe the condition is.
The exact type of treatment depends on what type of infection has spread into your
lymph nodes. At times, if an infection spreads into lymph nodes, it can spread quickly
to other lymph nodes and other parts of your body. So it may be important to find
the cause of the infection and start treatment quickly.
Treatment may include:
Antibiotics, antivirals, or antifungals given by mouth, IV, or injection. Which of
these you get depends on the type of germ causing the infection.
Medicine to control pain and fever
Medicine to reduce swelling
Surgery to drain a lymph node that has filled with pus
Can lymphadenitis be prevented?
The best way to prevent lymphadenitis is to see your healthcare provider at the first
sign of any infection or if you notice a sore swelling that feels like a little lump
just beneath your skin. Make sure to cleanse and use antiseptic on any scratches or
breaks in your skin. And always practice good hygiene, especially frequent handwashing.
Living with lymphadenitis
Take all your medicines exactly as prescribed and keep all your follow-up appointments.
Don't use any over-the-counter medicines without first talking to your healthcare
provider. Applying cool compresses and elevating the affected part of your body may
help relieve pain and swelling while your medicines are doing their work.
In most cases, lymphadenitis clears up quickly with correct treatment. But it may
take more time for lymph node swelling to go away. Sometimes a previously infected
lymph node may stay enlarged for a long time after the infection has gone away. Be
sure to let your healthcare provider know if your lymphadenitis symptoms come back.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, call your healthcare provider.
Key points about lymphadenitis
Lymphadenitis is an infection in one or more lymph nodes.
When lymph nodes become infected, it's usually because an infection started somewhere
else in your body.
Lymphadenitis can cause lymph nodes to become enlarged, red, or sore.
Treatment may include antibiotics and medicines to control pain and fever.
Early treatment of infections can prevent the development of lymphadenitis.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your healthcare
provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions.