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Lymphadenitis

Show Alternative Names
Lymph node infection
Lymph gland infection
Localized lymphadenopathy

Lymphadenitis is an infection of the lymph nodes (also called lymph glands). It is a complication of certain bacterial infections.

Causes

The lymph system (lymphatics) is a network of lymph nodes, lymph ducts, lymph vessels, and organs that produce and move a fluid called lymph from tissues to the bloodstream.

The lymph glands, or lymph nodes, are small structures that filter the lymph fluid. There are many white blood cells in the lymph nodes to help fight infection.

Lymphadenitis occurs when the glands become enlarged by swelling (inflammation), often in response to bacteria, viruses, or fungi. The swollen glands are usually found near the site of an infection, tumor, or inflammation.

Lymphadenitis may occur after skin infections or other infections caused by bacteria such as streptococcus or staphylococcus. Sometimes, it is caused by rare infections such as tuberculosis or cat scratch disease (bartonella).

Symptoms

 Symptoms may include:

  • Red, tender skin over lymph node
  • Swollen, tender, or hard lymph nodes
  • Fever

Lymph nodes may feel rubbery if an abscess (pocket of pus) has formed or they have become inflamed.

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam. This includes feeling your lymph nodes and looking for signs of injury or infection around any swollen lymph nodes.

A biopsy and culture of the affected area or node may reveal the cause of the inflammation. Blood cultures may reveal spread of infection (often bacteria) to the bloodstream.

Treatment

Lymphadenitis may spread within hours. Treatment should begin right away.

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics to treat any bacterial infection
  • Analgesics (painkillers) to control pain
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce inflammation
  • Cool compresses to reduce inflammation and pain

Surgery may be needed to drain an abscess.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Prompt treatment with antibiotics usually leads to a complete recovery. It may take weeks, or even months, for swelling to disappear.

Possible Complications

Untreated lymphadenitis may lead to:

  • Abscess formation
  • Cellulitis (a skin infection)
  • Fistulas (seen in lymphadenitis that is due to tuberculosis)
  • Sepsis (bloodstream infection), which can lead to death

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your provider or go to the emergency room if you have symptoms of lymphadenitis.

Prevention

Good general health and hygiene are helpful in the prevention of any infection.

Text only

Review Date: 6/20/2021

Reviewed By

Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Associate Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Associate in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

References

Pasternack MS. Lymphadenitis and lymphangitis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 95.

Disclaimer

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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Bacterial infections can lead to the formation of pus, or to the spread of the bacteria in the blood.

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Lymphatic system - Illustration Thumbnail

Lymphatic system

The lymphatic system filters fluid from around cells. It is an important part of the immune system. When people refer to swollen glands in the neck, they are usually referring to swollen lymph nodes. Common areas where lymph nodes can be easily felt, especially if they are enlarged, are the groin, armpits (axilla), above the clavicle (supraclavicular), in the neck (cervical), and the back of the head just above hairline (occipital).

Illustration

Immune system structures - Illustration Thumbnail

Immune system structures

The immune system protects the body from potentially harmful substances. The inflammatory response (inflammation) is part of innate immunity. It occurs when tissues are injured by bacteria, trauma, toxins, heat or any other cause.

Illustration

Bacteria - Illustration Thumbnail

Bacteria

Bacterial infections can lead to the formation of pus, or to the spread of the bacteria in the blood.

Illustration

 
 
 
 

 

 
 

 
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