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If you think about bacteria as the invaders, then white blood cells are the army that protects the body from the invasion. White cells are soldiers and these soldiers need camps to train. These camps are the lymph nodes.

Usually, lymph nodes are round small clusters of lymphocytes surrounded by a capsule. If a pathogen reaches the lymphatic fluid it has to pass through lymph nodes and this is where the white blood cells will be waiting to filter these pathogens.

Lymph nodes are usually found in groups; each subgroup of these groups is responsible for draining a specific location of the body. That's why it is more likely to notice the enlargement in specific lymph groups rather than others. Often the site of the enlarged lymph nodes is a clue to identify the underlying condition.

Enlarged lymph nodes usually occur when there is an outside invasion to the body as a result of exposure to bacteria or viruses.

Lymph nodes play an important role in your ability to fight bacteria, viruses and other causes of disease.

Lymph nodes are found almost everywhere in your body, but the most common areas where you may notice enlarged lymph nodes include your neck, armpits and groin area.


Even though most infections can cause enlarged lymph nodes, the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes is viral infection such as the common cold or infectious mononucleosis (glandular fever).

Common infections

  • Infectious mononucleosis (glandular fever): This disease is caused by Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), is often spread from person to person by saliva. That's why it is called "the kissing disease," and occurs in people who kiss a lot, teenagers! But it may occur at any age. The disease may begin insidiously with fatigue and feeling down, muscle aches, mild headache, and often sore throat. Then sore throat gets worse and the nodes in the neck become enlarged and painful. There is no specific treatment but sometimes steroids might be used. Things you can do to improve the symptoms include drinking fluids frequently, using gargles to ease the sore throat and resting. In case of high fever use acetaminophen or ibuprofen but avoid Aspirin or antibiotics.
  • Ear infections, strep throat, infected tooth, skin infections and wound infections
  • Measles
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) usually causes generalized lymph node swallowing
  • Cat scratch fever causing enlarged nodes on the side of the scratch.
  • Lupus or rheumatoid arthritis: chronic inflammatory conditions that target joints, and other organs.
  • Lymphoma: cancer of blood cells that starts from the lymphatic system and the lymph nodes.
  • Leukemia: cancer of blood cells that starts from the bone marrow and may affect other organs including lymph nodes.
  • Almost any cancer may spread (metastasize) to the nearby lymph nodes, and this is usually a sign of bad prognosis.

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