Learn About Ailments | Swollen Glands

Swollen Glands

Swollen glands are in fact swollen lymph nodes. Glands, or lymph nodes, are part of the body's immune system and help to fight infection. Glands are small, oval and soft in structure and can be located under the skin's surface or deep within the body. Swollen glands are usually noticeable in the neck, under the armpits or in the groin. Swollen glands are typically as a result of a viral or bacterial infection but can be a sign of more serious conditions such as cancer.
Swollen Glands

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Did You Know? Causes
Symptoms Diagnosis
Related Terms

•    The lymphatic system is a series of tubes around the body
•    Lymph is a colourless liquid that travels around the system fighting infection
•    Lymph nodes that you can feel are in the neck, armpits and groin
•    Lymph nodes that you can't feel are in the chest, abdomen and pelvis

Swollen glands (lymph nodes) occur for a variety of reasons. The reason glands become swollen is due to infection, inflammation or cancer. The most common reason for swollen glands is from infections and these can be viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitical.

Common viral infections that cause swollen glands include: chickenpox, common cold, herpes and measles.

Common bacterial causes of swollen glands include: streptococcus, syphilis, chlamydia and tuberculosis.

Fungal and parasitical infections such as histoplasmosis and toxoplasmosis respectively can cause swollen lymph nodes.

Inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis or lupus, can cause swollen glands. Cancers, such as lymphoma or leukaemia where the cancer originates from the blood cells, will cause swollen lymph nodes while breast cancer will cause the glands under the armpits to become swollen.

It is important to remember that swollen glands do not necessarily have a serious underlying condition and the glands may become swollen even though there are no other symptoms. Swollen lymph nodes can also be a reaction to medications you may have taken.

Swollen gland symptoms can vary and the glands may not appear or feel to be swollen until they are examined by a doctor. Other times, the glands can feel extremely swollen, tender to the touch and painful.

Other symptoms will usually indicate the presence of problem rather than the swelling of the lymph nodes alone. The cause of the swollen gland may be better determined by problems such as fever, sore throat, night sweats or weight loss.

The lymph nodes closest to the surface of the skin can be diagnosed by a GP's examination. Swollen glands in the neck (known as the cervical lymph nodes), under the arms (known as the axillary nodes) and in the groin (known as the inguinal nodes) can be easily felt and visible. Tonsils are also lymph nodes and easily visible by everyone (unless of course you've had them removed). Deep set lymph nodes require examination using a diagnostic test such as a CT scan.

When examining your lymph nodes, a doctor will make their diagnosis based on medical history and other accompanying symptoms such as fatigue, fever, weight loss, family history etc. Swollen glands in a particular area of the body will usually indicate a problem close to that area. For example, lymph nodes in the groin that are swollen may be caused by the presence of a sexually transmitted disease.

The characteristics of the gland will often be a useful indicator of the type of problem. For instance, glands that are not tender, have no movement and are hard may indicate that cancer has spread to that node. Cancer of the lymphatic system is known as Lymphoma. If cancer is suspected, a biopsy of the node may be taken to determine the type of cancer.

Sore glands
Tender glands

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