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What are lymph glands?

Lymph glands or lymph nodes are small oval or round glands present throughout your body. Together with the lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system is in charge of protecting the human body from infections or any other challenge to the immune system.

Lymph nodes are located superficially, just under your skin, or they can be located deep into the body. They come in groups, and each group corresponds to a particular region of the body.

What causes the lymph glands to become swollen?

Lymph glands can become swollen for many reasons. Some are harmless, while others may indicate a serious health condition.

Some of the reasons are:

Bacterial infections like chlamydia, syphilis, tuberculosis, streptococcus, and staphylococcus.

Viral infections like common respiratory viruses, mononucleosis, measles, herpes, and HIV.

Fungal infections like histoplasmosis.

Parasitic infections like leishmaniasis and toxoplasmosis.

Inflammation - inflammatory diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis may cause swelling of the glands.

Adverse reaction to vaccination may cause the glands in the armpit to swell.

STD (Sexually transmitted diseases) like, for example, syphilis cause the inguinal lymph nodes to swell.

Lipomas - harmless growth of the fatty tissue

Leukemia - cancer of the blood, originating in the bone marrow

Lymphoma - a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system.

Cancer - any type of cancer that spreads to the lymphatic system will lead to swollen lymph glands in the affected region. Breast cancer will cause an enlargement of the armpit lymph nodes, testicular cancer will cause enlargement of the inguinal lymph nodes, and so on.

Testicular torsion - especially in young boys and adolescents.

How are swollen lymph nodes diagnosed?

It is very important to consult your doctor if the lymph nodes continue to increase in size, if they persist more than a week or two, if they are not painful, if they are hard, ruby, non mobile when you push against them.

Your doctor will probably want to know when you noticed an enlarged lymph node, if you have any other symptoms, if it hurts or not, and if it has increased in size.

A good look at your medical history and a palpation of the lymph node will help your doctor to diagnose the right cause of the enlarged lymph node.

They will also order some further tests like a complete blood checkup, ultrasound, mammogram, CT scan, and even a biopsy if there is a possibility of cancer.

How are swollen lymph nodes treated?

First of all it is very important to get the right diagnosis. Enlarged lymph nodes may be something harmless, but they can also be the result of something more serious like breast cancer, leukemia, and lymphomas.

Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. Lipomas usually don't require any treatment, but they can also be removed surgically. For cancers, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery are recommended.

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