What causes swollen lymph nodes and what should I do about it?

Symptom Database

Swollen lymph nodes, also known as lymphadenopathy, can be a cause for concern when they occur. These small, bean-shaped glands play a crucial role in our immune system, filtering out harmful substances and producing immune cells. When they become swollen or inflamed, it is often a sign that our body is fighting an infection or dealing with another underlying issue. In this article, we will explore the causes of swollen lymph nodes and discuss what steps you can take to address them.

Causes of Swollen Lymph Nodes

Swollen lymph nodes can occur in various parts of the body, including the neck, armpit, and groin. Understanding the potential causes can help you identify the underlying issue and seek appropriate treatment. Here are some common causes:


Infections are the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes. When your body is fighting off an infection, such as a cold, flu, or strep throat, the lymph nodes near the affected area may become enlarged. This is a sign that your immune system is actively responding to the infection.

Immune Disorders

Certain immune disorders, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, can cause chronic inflammation in the lymph nodes. In these cases, the swelling may persist for an extended period and require ongoing management.


In some cases, swollen lymph nodes can be a symptom of cancer. Lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, often leads to enlarged lymph nodes. If you notice persistent swelling without any apparent cause, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation.

Other Causes

Swollen lymph nodes can also be triggered by non-infectious causes, such as certain medications, allergic reactions, or even physical injury. It is crucial to consider these factors and discuss them with your doctor to determine the appropriate course of action.

Symptoms of Swollen Lymph Nodes

Recognizing the symptoms associated with swollen lymph nodes can help you differentiate between a minor issue and a more serious underlying condition. Here are some common symptoms:

Tenderness and Pain

When lymph nodes swell, they can become tender to the touch and may cause discomfort or pain. This tenderness is often localized to the area surrounding the swollen node.

Visible Swelling

In some cases, you may notice visible swelling in the affected area. This can be particularly noticeable in the neck, armpit, or groin regions.

Redness and Warmth

Swollen lymph nodes may appear red and feel warm to the touch. This can be a sign of inflammation and increased blood flow to the area.

Accompanying Symptoms

Depending on the underlying cause, you may experience additional symptoms alongside swollen lymph nodes. These can include fever, fatigue, sore throat, cough, or unexplained weight loss. Pay attention to these accompanying symptoms and communicate them to your healthcare provider.

Treatment for Swollen Lymph Nodes

The treatment for swollen lymph nodes depends on the underlying cause. In many cases, swollen lymph nodes will resolve on their own as your body fights off the infection or inflammation. However, there are steps you can take to alleviate discomfort and promote healing:

Rest and Hydration

Ensure you get plenty of rest and stay hydrated to support your immune system’s efforts in fighting off infections. Adequate rest and hydration can also help reduce inflammation and promote healing.

Warm Compresses

Applying warm compresses to the swollen area can help reduce pain and inflammation. The warmth can also improve blood circulation, aiding in the healing process.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

If you are experiencing discomfort, over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can provide temporary relief. However, it is essential to follow the recommended dosage and consult a healthcare professional if the pain persists or worsens.

Treating Underlying Conditions

If the cause of your swollen lymph nodes is an underlying condition, such as an infection or immune disorder, treating that condition is crucial. Your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics, antiviral medications, or other appropriate treatments to address the root cause.

Medical Evaluation

If your swollen lymph nodes persist for more than two weeks, continue to grow in size, or are accompanied by concerning symptoms, it is essential to seek medical evaluation. Your healthcare provider can perform further tests, such as blood work or imaging, to determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.


Swollen lymph nodes can be a sign that your body is actively fighting off an infection or dealing with an underlying issue. While they are often a temporary and harmless condition, it is crucial to pay attention to accompanying symptoms and seek medical evaluation if necessary. By understanding the causes and symptoms of swollen lymph nodes, you can take appropriate steps to address them and support your overall health and well-being.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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