Lymph nodes are
small, bean-shaped glands throughout the body. They are part of the
lymph system, which carries fluid (lymph fluid),
nutrients, and waste material between the body tissues and the bloodstream.
The lymph system is an important part of the
immune system, the body's defense system against
disease. The lymph nodes filter lymph fluid as it flows through them, trapping
bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances, which are then destroyed by
special white blood cells called lymphocytes.
Lymph nodes may be
found singly or in groups. And they may be as small as the head of a pin or as
large as an olive. Groups of lymph nodes can be felt in the neck, groin, and
underarms. Lymph nodes generally are not tender or painful. Most lymph nodes in
the body cannot be felt.
Lymph nodes often
swell in one location when a problem such as an injury, infection, or tumor
develops in or near the lymph node. Which lymph nodes are swollen can help
identify the problem.
Common sites for swollen lymph nodes include the neck,
groin, and underarms.
When lymph nodes swell in two or more areas of the
body, it is called generalized lymphadenopathy. This may be caused by:
swollen glands focuses on treating the cause. For example, a bacterial
infection may be treated with antibiotics, while a viral infection often goes
away on its own. If cancer is suspected, a
biopsy may be done to confirm the diagnosis.
Any swollen lymph nodes that don't go away or return to normal size within about a month should be checked by your doctor.
nodes may remain swollen or firm long after an initial infection is gone. This
is especially true in children, whose glands may decrease in size while
remaining firm and visible for many weeks.
December 6, 2012
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Charles M. Myer, III, MD - Otolaryngology
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