Lymph nodes are found throughout your body. They are an important part of your immune system. Lymph nodes help your body recognize and fight germs, infections, and other foreign substances.
The term "swollen glands" refers to enlargement of one or more lymph nodes.
In a child, a node is considered enlarged if it is more than 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) in diameter.
See also: Lymphadenitis and lymphangitis
Swollen glands; Glands - swollen; Lymph nodes - swollen; Lymphadenopathy
Common areas where the lymph nodes can be felt (with the fingers) include:
Lymph nodes can become swollen from infection, inflammatory conditions, an abscess, or cancer. Other causes of enlarged lymph nodes are rare. By far, the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes is infection.
When swelling appears suddenly and is painful, it is usually caused by injury or an infection. Enlargement that comes on gradually and painlessly may, in some cases, result from cancer or a tumor.
Infections that commonly cause swollen lymph nodes include:
Immune or autoimmune disorders that can cause swollen lymph nodes include rheumatoid arthritis and HIV.
Which lymph nodes are swollen depends on the type of problem and the body parts involved. Identifying the location can help determine the possible cause.
Swollen lymph nodes may also be caused by some medications (such phenytoin for seizures) or certain vaccinations (such as typhoid immunization).
Soreness in lymph nodes usually disappears in a couple of days without treatment, but the nodes may not return to normal size for several weeks after the infection has cleared. Generally, if they are painful, it is because they swell rapidly in the early stages of fighting an infection.
Call your doctor if:
Your doctor will perform a physical examination, checking all of your palpable lymph nodes for size, texture, warmth, tenderness, and other features.
Your doctor may ask the following medical history questions:
The following diagnostic tests may be performed:
Pasternack MS, Swartz MN. Lymphadenitis and lymphangitis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 92.
Nizet V, Jackson MA. Localized Lymphadenitis, lymphadenopathy, and lymphangitis. In: Long SS, ed. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 22.