Lymph glands or lymph nodes are an essential part of the lymphatic system. They filtrate the lymph and actively participate in protection of the body against many foreign particles. All the lymph nodes in the body are classified into different groups and they are named after the part of the body they are situated in.
Swelling of lymph glands is always considered pathological and there are many illnesses that can cause enlargement of these structures. In majority of cases swelling of lymph glands develops due to infections and it can also occur in case of certain cancers.
What Causes Swelling of Lymph Glands?
Under normal circumstances lymph nodes are no bigger than a pea. Superficial lymph glands are only palpable in case they become enlarged. The enlargement can be mild and very intensive. In some cases the enlarged lymph node may even elevate the skin and become quite noticeable.
Infection is one of the most common causes of lymph node enlargement. There is a variety of infections associated with swelling of lymph nodes and Streptococcal infection of the throat, ear infection, tooth abscess, wound infection, measles, mumps, glandular fever are only some of them. Furthermore, enlarged lymph nodes affect patients suffering from toxoplasmosis, some sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and tuberculosis.
Apart from infection enlarged lymph nodes are also associated with certain cancers. For example, lymph nodes are swollen in lymphomas and leukemia. Even metastatic spread of cancers of other organs leads to lymph node enlargement.
Characteristics and Treatment for Swollen Lymph Nodes
The enlargement of the lymph node/ nodes can be gradual or rapid. In infections the swelling is rapid while in case of tumors the affect lymph node (nodes) grows gradually. Furthermore, in some cases only one lymph node is enlarged while in others there may be swelling of two or more lymph nodes, the entire group or even several different groups of lymph nodes. The skin above the lymph node can be red and tender to touch. There are certain characteristics of lymph node enlargement that may be of diagnostic importance. Enlargement of internal lymph nodes can be only confirmed with imaging method such as CT scan or MRI.
Treatment for enlarged lymph nods depends on the underlying cause. It is much easier to deal with infections since they are generally curable than to battle cancer. Treatment for cancer is much more aggressive and includes several treatment modalities such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Once the definitive diagnosis is set the doctor recommends the most suitable treatment option.