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What is Lymphadenitis?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Lymphadenitis is swelling in the lymph nodes. It usually presents as one or more enlarged or swollen lymph nodes under the neck, in the armpits, or in the groin. This condition is relatively common, and most often indicates presence of bacterial or viral infection. Fungal and parasitic infection can also result in swelling. Very occasionally, a lymph node may also be swollen as a result of cancerous cells invading the node. This is less common but may be tested if all other symptoms are ruled out.

The most common symptoms of lymphadenitis are swelling of one or more lymph nodes. Lymph nodes that are swollen may feel slightly hardened, and may be painful when touched. The skin covering the lymph node can sometimes feel hot to the touch or may appear slightly red.

A swollen lymph node usually means a doctor will want to look for the cause, especially if the swelling is painful. Physicians may perform blood tests to screen for infections, and in some cases, may perform a small biopsy of the lymph node. If the suspected cause of this condition is viral, a biopsy is rarely performed. Usually, lymphadenitis only indicates need for a biopsy if cancer is suspected.

Sometimes in children, chronic inflammation of one lymph node occurs and is not associated with discomfort, or heat or redness of the skin. This is actually not uncommon, and unless discomfort is present, doctors usually diagnose this as viral and do not treat it. Recent studies into the disease cat scratch fever do suggest it may be responsible for most incidences of chronic lymphadenitis in children. Since bacteria cause cat scratch fever, antibiotics can resolve the swelling.

Normal treatment for swelling of bacterial origin is a course of antibiotics. In all cases, physicians treat underlying causes when possible. You can also relieve minor discomfort from swollen lymph nodes by taking anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen.

A more serious form of this condition is lymphangitis, which almost always indicates the presence of bacterial infection. Its symptoms include high fever, red streaks around the swollen lymph node, throbbing pain in the lymph nodes, and flulike symptoms like lack of appetite, fatigue, and aching muscles. Lymphangitis is most associated with strep and staph bacterial infections. Cellulitis, infection of the blood, is a quite common cause. Since lymphangitis is often bacterial, a physician should promptly assess these symptoms.

Even with antibiotic treatment, it can take several months for lymph nodes to return to normal. Some people exhibit almost constant symptoms of lymphadenitis, which do not resolve, despite treatment. This can be especially true of people with compromised immune systems. Those with autoimmune disorders or with HIV are likely to experience chronic lymphadenitis. Some children, because of constant exposure to viruses, also have swollen lymph nodes that can last for several months to a year or more.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon998608 — On Jul 14, 2017

I currently have lymphadenitis. Doctor says that I have like 5 on my neck. I'm taking antibiotic and a painkiller. I need to drink it twice a day for 12 days. I hope everyone a fast recovery.

By anon948644 — On May 01, 2014

I'm pregnant. Will having this affect my pregnancy?

By anon930981 — On Feb 06, 2014

My daughter was bitten by hundreds of bed bugs during a seven-night stay at a local hotel. She developed flu like symptoms at the onset followed by her body covered in itchy red welts. Since that time she has continue (two years now) to suffer from flare up of lymphadenitis in her legs. Anyone else?

By anon302379 — On Nov 08, 2012

I'm a worried wife. My husband had an ultrasound a couple weeks ago that showed two enlarged lymph nodes in his groin. He was put on antibiotics, but this week that surgeon said to discontinue them and scheduled my husband for a biopsy Monday.

Today we were in the ER because my husband's calf on the leg where the nodes are enlarged, has swollen up immensely, and his calf has broken out in a bad rash. The doctor said he believes my husband has developed lymphedema or the beginning of lymphangitis, and we will know more after the biopsy Monday. Of course I am concerned for him.

By anon152370 — On Feb 14, 2011

I had a bout with lymphadenitis when I was 11 years old. I am now 75. My armpits, groin, and neck (on both sides in all three places) became swollen and ruptured with incredible pain and pus for what seemed to be a very long time. The doctors had given up on me. y family was very poor and would not call a doctor right away.

I was in and out of a coma for several days. I was severely ill. I can only attribute my recovery (which was very fast) to the prayers of my mother. I now know that it was coupled with some type of bacterial infection and that simple antibiotics would have cured it early. If I can help anyone else with this, please let me know.

By anon131669 — On Dec 03, 2010

Re: lymphadenitis, biopsies and suspected cancer.

This is a very misleading comment and could cause needless worry for people.

A biopsy may be performed even when it is known that there is an infection (and not cancer) in order to diagnose precisely what the cause of the infection is.

By closerfan12 — On Jul 27, 2010

Lymphadenitis is also really closely related with tuberculosis.

My church donates to an overseas TB clinic, and one of the volunteers told me that almost fifty percent of lymphadenitis in the second and third world is caused by tuberculosis.

It's so strange to think that a disease that is virtually eradicated in the US still has such a daily impact on so much of the world.

By Planch — On Jul 27, 2010

Lymphadenitis isn't only limited to humans -- goats and sheep are prone to something called caseous lymphadenitis.

Luckily it's occurs primarily in animals -- in infected goats there is an almost 70% morbidity rate, and it does not respond to antibiotics.

However, there is a vaccine, and the abscesses that form in the lymph nodes can be removed if they remain encapsulated.

By galen84basc — On Jul 27, 2010

One of the most common forms of lymphadenitis in children is mesenteric lymphadenitis.

It can be tricky to diagnose, because it often presents similarly to appendicitis, with abdominal pain, fever, and nausea.

However, most cases are mild, and usually go away on their own.

In the case of acute mesenteric lymphadenitis, painkillers and antibiotics may be prescribed.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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