Lymph node swelling – causes, treatment

Lymph node swelling

Lymph node swelling or lymphadenopathy , as the name suggests, is a pathological swelling of the lymph nodes in the human body. The lymph nodes in the neck are often affected as part of a sore throat.

What is swollen lymph nodes?

Lymph nodes serve as a filter system for the so-called tissue water, which is also referred to as lymph fluid in technical jargon. Similar to the blood system, the lymphatic system runs throughout the body.

The function of the lymph nodes is to strengthen the immune system and is therefore largely responsible for the defense against pathogens. It is therefore hardly surprising that the lymphocytes, i.e. the lymph cells, belong to the same cell category as the white blood cells. It is important to know that the lymph nodes are everywhere on and in the body. The most well-known are found on the neck, in the organs and in the armpit and groin regions.

In a healthy state, the lymph nodes are about one centimeter in size. Swelling of the lymph nodes is common with infection and inflammation. Even with malignant and benign tumors, they often appear as swelling.


As a rule, swollen lymph nodes are harmless and only occur as part of a simple inflammatory disease that goes away after a few days.

These include bacterial and viral infections, such as the common cold or the common cold .

In some cases, however, a swollen lymph node can also be caused by serious illnesses. These more serious diseases include benign but also malignant tumors such as lymph node cancer and malignant lymphoma.

diseases with this symptom

Diagnosis & History

When swollen lymph nodes are detected, an exact diagnosis of the underlying disease is important. The doctor clarifies the general state of health of the patient, collects the history and asks about accompanying symptoms.

The doctor also checks whether lymph nodes are swollen in different parts of the body. Whether there is an enlargement of the spleen , which occurs with some lymph node diseases, is determined by palpation in the left upper abdominal area. Depending on the suspected cause of the disease, ultrasound examinations , blood tests and biopsies (by removing lymph node tissue) as well as X-rays, magnetic resonance or computer tomography are carried out.

When inflamed, lymph nodes have a firmer consistency and cause pain . Malignant lymph nodes are often hard, can hardly be moved and are not painful.


Swelling of the lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy) that has persisted for a long period of time is often treated surgically. Tissue structures can be damaged in the process. Bruising , bleeding and secondary bleeding are also possible. Temporary signs of paralysis, numbness and other failures can occur .

Wound healing disorders as well as scarring and inflammation cannot be ruled out in connection with the surgical treatment of a lymph node swelling. Allergic reactions can occur in varying degrees of severity. Functional or aesthetic impairments are relatively rare.

If the lymph node swelling persists for a longer period of time, the skin often becomes overheated and reddened, ultimately leading to a purulent abscess . Lymphangitis occurs when the swollen lymph nodes become infected and inflamed. If the bacteria get into the bloodstream, a life-threatening general infection can occur, which is associated with high fever and chills. In the worst case, it can lead to fatal sepsis (blood poisoning).

It is also known that if the symptoms recur frequently, the destruction of the lymphatic vessels can lead to the formation of lymphedema. If there is painless swelling of the lymph nodes, which may be accompanied by a drop in performance, fever and weight loss as well as night sweats, a tumorous disease of the lymph cells should also be considered. It cannot be ruled out that it is Hodgkin lymphoma .

When should you go to the doctor?

Lymph node swelling occurs in different parts of the body. They are not always a cause for concern. Swelling of the lymph nodes can occur as a result of an acute cold. With colds and throat infections, the lymph nodes near the neck are often swollen. Inflamed tooth roots or abscesses in the jaw can also lead to swollen lymph glands. They should go down again when the acute illness subsides. However, if this does not happen in the foreseeable future, the doctor treating you should determine the causes.

For the medical professional, the location of the swollen lymph nodes is a clue to which area of ​​the body there may be problems. Many lymph node swellings are caused by an infection in the organism. These swellings do not always require a doctor’s visit, provided they subside as the underlying condition resolves. If this does not happen, however, the patient should consult a doctor to be on the safe side. The first point of contact is usually the general practitioner .

As long as the lymph nodes feel soft, they hurt and can be moved, a doctor’s visit is not absolutely necessary. Visiting a doctor is advisable if the symptoms of the disease worsen or last for an unusually long time. However, if the lymph nodes are hardened, can hardly be moved and remain painless, the person concerned should think of a malignant disease. In this case, immediate consultation with a specialist in internal diseases is advisable. Comprehensive investigations are necessary.

Treatment & Therapy

The determination of the cause of a lymph node swelling begins with a general anamnesis. This includes history, symptoms and close examination of the swollen lymph nodes. The family doctor will ask questions about possible infections, such as colds , tonsillitis or influenza . He will also try to determine how many and which lymph nodes are swollen and when they first appeared. Any other pre-existing conditions and medications taken will also need to be examined.

After that, the doctor will usually scan the swollen lymph nodes and check them for appearance and pain. In particular, a different consistency (normally the lymph nodes are more mobile, elastic and soft) can provide further information about a possible cause of the lymph node swelling.

Furthermore, other lymph node areas should also be examined, since the lymph nodes of the organs may also be affected (e.g. lymph gland diseases of the spleen). For this purpose, the abdomen is palpated, fever and various blood values ​​are measured.

Other examination options that can then define the exact cause are: X-ray examinations, computer and magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound examination and tissue sampling.

Once the cause has been found, the appropriate individual treatment can be initiated. Since most lymph node swellings are of a rather harmless nature, i.e. occur as part of infections, no treatment is necessary, as the enlarged lymph nodes go down on their own. In the event of a bacterial infection, taking antibiotics makes sense, but should definitely be discussed with the doctor beforehand. The same applies to lymph node swelling in the context of glandular fever and measles . Here, too, the medication should be determined with the doctor (so-called antivirals).

If the lymph nodes are swollen due to a tumor, then clinical treatment with radiation and chemotherapy is essential for survival anyway.


With regard to susceptibility to infection, aftercare is often the same as preventive measures. In the case of a lymph node swelling, too, the primary concern is to strengthen the body’s immune system in the long term so that the organism can respond adequately to attacks by bacteria and viruses. Adequate sleep and protection in cold weather are very important in this context.

Sauna sessions are suitable for strengthening the immune system and can cause good hardening. A balanced diet and exercise in the fresh air are also important factors in enhancing general well-being. Nicotine and alcohol increase susceptibility to infections and should therefore be reduced or avoided altogether.

Anyone who is prone to infections of the upper respiratory tract should ensure that the throat is optimally moistened as part of the aftercare. The gliding ability of the pharyngeal mucosa achieved in this way offers the bacteria that cause infections in this area a particularly small target.

Outlook & Forecast

In most cases, swelling of the lymph nodes also causes enlargement of the spleen and pain. After an operation, paralysis and numbness can occur for a short time. These usually disappear after a few days. Since scars can also occur during treatment , disorders or inflammation can develop there. The patient is therefore often dependent on taking antibiotics in order to avoid them.

If the swelling of the lymph nodes causes inflammation, bacteria can get into the blood . Due to the lymph node swelling, most patients also suffer from a general feeling of illness, fever and weight loss, so that they can also become underweight.

The swelling is usually treated causally, so that the treatment of the underlying disease is in the foreground. In most cases, the disease progresses positively if treatment is started early.

You can do that yourself

Ear infections, tonsillitis or colds are usually noticeable with pain and swollen lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are elementary components of the human immune system and are located throughout the body. They are particularly easy to feel on the neck, under the armpits, behind the ears and on the back of the head. Lymph channels connect the lymph nodes and filter germs and other foreign matter out of the lymph fluid.

Simple home remedies can help with swelling of the lymph nodes caused by a cold. Massages can stimulate normal function and bring about better removal of pathogens. The fingers are placed on the affected lymph nodes and gentle, circular movements are performed. The massage can be repeated several times a day. Warm compresses help reduce swelling by stimulating blood circulation. Putting a washcloth soaked in warm water on the affected area for five to ten minutes is enough. Again, this can be repeated several times a day.

Massaging with castor oil has a similar effect, as the oil has a decongestant and anti-inflammatory effect. Garlic has antibiotic properties. Mashing a cloves or two and eating them with lemon juice can decongest lymph nodes. Garlic effectively supports the healing process. Externally, garlic oil helps against swelling of the lymph nodes. In addition to colds, serious illnesses such as cancer can also be hidden behind the swelling. If the lymph nodes are swollen for several weeks, a doctor must be consulted.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.