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Lymphadenopathy or adenopathy is a medical condition in which the lymph nodes are swollen. The lymph nodes are not responsible for producing and releasing chemicals like eye or sweat glands. These nodes work together to carry lymph all over the body. The lymph transport white blood cells around the body to help the immune system fight germs and other invaders. These nodes also clear fluids from the body that helps to avoid infection and other diseases.

Symptoms of Lymphadenopathy

A human body has hundreds of lymph nodes but not all can be felt. In some cases, the lymph nodes of the neck or the armpit swell because of infection and hence, become visible. Moreover, the lymph nodes behind the head, belly or the groin can also be felt. These enlarged lymph nodes can produce symptoms such as:

  • Tenderness
  • Pain upon being touched
  • Redness and hot skin over and around the lymph node
  • Visible lumps

Swollen lymph nodes can also occur along with symptoms of infections. Some of these include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Exhaustion
  • Gooey nose
  • Sore throat
  • Ear pain
  • Headache

In most cases, the lymph nodes become their size after the infection is gone. However, some other symptoms, such as below, can indicate a more serious condition:

  • Quickly increasing nodes
  • Easy bleeding and bruising
  • Night sweating
  • Consistent fever
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen nodes that last for more than two weeks

Causes of Lymphadenopathy

Swollen lymph nodes can be due to a variety of reasons:

Infections: These are the most common cause of lymphadenopathy. The human body fills the nodes with white blood cells to fight the infection quickly. Some common infections that can cause swelling to include common cold, influenza, measles, strep throat, tooth infections, ear infections, tonsillitis, skin infections, etc.

Apart from infections, lymphadenopathy can also be caused because of autoimmune diseases or injuries. Some of these include:

  • Medications such as the ones advised to prevent malaria can lead to swelling in the lymph nodes.
  • Injuries, including cuts, wounds, etc. can cause swelling in the lymph nodes surrounding the affected area. This happens because the body reacts quickly to keep the germs of the injured area.
  • Lupus, an autoimmune disease, can lead to swelling in the joints, skin and the lymph nodes.
  • Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to inflammation in the joints.
  • Inflammatory issues such as IgG4-related diseases can damage and lead to scarring in the body.

Risk of cancer

In some cases, the swelling in the lymph nodes can also be due to cancer. However, lymphadenopathy is much likely to occur because of an underlying infection. In rare cases, swelling in the lymph nodes can be treated as a symptom of:

  • Lymphoma: This particular type of cancer begins in the lymph node or the lymph system
  • Leukaemia: This type of cancer affects the blood and the bone marrow of a person, which in turn affect the lymph nodes.

In most cases, cancer begins in another part of the body and spreads to the lymph nodes eventually. In case a person has the following symptoms in addition to the swollen lymph nodes, immediate medical attention must be sought:

  • Night sweating
  • Consistent fever
  • Fatigue for over multiple weeks
  • Easy bleeding and bruising

Diagnosis of Lymphadenopathy

Generally, swollen nodes are not a medical issue or a matter of concern. However, they indicate that there is an underlying condition, which is causing the swelling. Firstly, the doctor will assess how many areas of the body have been affected by the issue. If the problem has affected only one area, it is called localized and if it has spread further to two or more areas, it is referred to as generalized.

In case, the nodes of the entire body are swollen, the doctor will examine further causes that could potentially cause the problem. To assess the possible causes of the swollen lymph nodes, the doctor will ask questions relating to the period of the disease, ongoing medications, and other symptoms related to the issue, etc.

After this, the doctor will also conduct a physical exam to feel the lymph nodes to assess their size, pain, warmth, etc. The location, size, and the texture of the lymph nodes help the doctor to get an idea of the underlying disease.

To confirm the initial diagnosis, the doctor will order certain blood tests and can also do some imaging testing, including X-Rays and CT scans. This can help to detect the cause of infection or check for tumours.

In some cases, the doctor may also collect a sample tissue of the lymph nodes with the help of a needle or by taking out the entire thing. The sample collected will be examined for further issues.

Treatment of Lymphadenopathy

The method to treat lymphadenopathy is to treat the underlying cause and not the swollen lymph nodes directly. The following can help to relieve pain:

  • Applying a warm compress to reduce the swelling
  • Applying an ice pack on the sensitive skin or the sore areas of the body to relieve pain and reduce inflammation
  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Taking rest to allow the body to recover from the underlying issue

In the case of bacterial infections, the doctor will prescribe medications to cure the infection and then reduce swelling of the lymph nodes. Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics.

On the other hand, severe underlying diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, etc. will need special treatment plans.

Overall, lymphadenopathy is not a serious problem if treated in time and when the underlying cause is not severe. In those rare cases, where the underlying cause is a serious health issue, the treatment can be exhaustive.

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