What are lymph nodes?
Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped glands that help our bodies fight infection and cancer as part of the lymphatic system.
A fluid called lymph, (consisting of water, white blood cells, damaged cells, bacteria, proteins and fats) travels through the lymphatic system and the damaged cells and bacteria are filtered and removed by the lymph nodes.
Swelling of the lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy) is common when an infection is present. Lymph nodes may feel painful when they become swollen (lymphadenitis).
The most common cause of swollen lymph nodes is a mild infection. Less commonly, lymph nodes can swell due to cancer, HIV or tuberculosis.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you ever notice any unusual lumps or swellings in your lymph nodes.
Where are lymph nodes located?
Lymph nodes are located throughout the body, distributed along the tubes of the lymphatic system.
Places where you might be able to feel your swollen lymph nodes include your head and neck, under your chin, your arms, under your armpits, the area around your groin, and the back of your knees.
You will not be able to feel swollen lymph nodes that are located in deeper parts of your body, but you may experience other symptoms. For example, a swollen lymph node near the lung may cause a persistent cough.
What causes swollen lymph nodes?
Lymph nodes can become swollen for a number of reasons. The most common causes of swollen lymph nodes are upper respiratory infections (URI) and infections in parts of the body near lymph nodes.
Swollen lymph nodes can sometimes be a sign of something less common. For example, they may be a symptom of cancer, HIV or tuberculosis.
See your doctor if you are ever concerned about your lymph nodes.
How often should I check my lymph nodes?
It may be a good idea to check your lymph nodes around once per month. Areas that you might want to focus on include your head and neck, your underarms, and your groin.
The British Association of Dermatologists has a leaflet - How to check your lymph nodes - which demonstrates the correct way to examine your lymph nodes at home.
Visit your doctor if you ever notice any unusual lumps or bumps anywhere on your body.
What do normal lymph nodes feel like?
Healthy lymph nodes are typically pea-sized. You should not normally be able to feel them.
Lymph nodes that are just below the skin may be easier to feel when they become swollen as they will become larger.
You might experience other symptoms if a lymph node in a deeper part of your body becomes swollen, like a cough or swelling of a limb.
See your doctor if you ever suspect one of your lymph nodes has become swollen or if you notice any lumps or bumps on your body.
Swollen lymph nodes treatment
Treatment for swollen lymph nodes will depend on the cause. If your doctor determines the cause of swelling is an upper respiratory infection, it may be recommended that you wait for about a week to see if your lymph nodes recover on their own.
More serious conditions like cancer will need longer-term treatment.
Lymph nodes are located in many areas of your body, but most of the time you should not be able to feel them. Healthy lymph nodes are normally about the size of a pea, but numerous health conditions can cause them to swell and become larger.
You may want to check your lymph nodes once a month.
Swollen lymph nodes can be caused by a variety of conditions. Speak to your doctor if you ever notice any lumps, bumps or swellings on your body.