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. The medical name for swollen lymph nodes is lymphadenopathy.
In a child, a node is considered enlarged if it is more than 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) wide.
Common areas where the lymph nodes can be felt (with the fingers) include:
Infections are the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes. Infections that can cause them include:
Immune or autoimmune disorders that can cause swollen lymph nodes are:
Cancers that can cause swollen lymph nodes include:
Other cancers may also cause this problem.
Certain medications can cause swollen lymph nodes, including:
Which lymph nodes are swollen depends on the cause and the body parts involved. Swollen lymph nodes that appear suddenly and are painful are usually due to injury or infection. Slow, painless swelling may be due to cancer or a tumor.
Painful lymph nodes are generally a sign that your body is fighting an infection. The soreness usually goes away in a couple days, without treatment. The lymph node may not return to its normal size for several weeks.
Call your doctor if:
Your doctor or nurse will perform a physical examination and ask about your medical history and symptoms. Examples of questions that may be asked include when the swelling began, if it came on suddenly, and whether any nodes are painful when pressed.
The following tests may be done:
Treatment depends on the cause of the swollen nodes.
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.