Lymphadenopathy – Why Would Lymph Nodes Hurt?

Your lymph nodes play an important role in your body. They help filter viruses, bacteria and other pathogens out of your bloodstream. Then, they trap and destroy them or send them back to the bloodstream where they help form plasma. When these organs are inflamed, they become enlarged and painful. Swollen lymph nodes are known as Lymphadenopathy and can be a clue to an infection or illness.

Most of the time, swollen lymph nodes are nothing to worry about and should go away as soon as the infection goes away. However, if you’re feeling sick and your lymph nodes enlarge for no apparent reason or they grow larger over time, it may be a sign of something more serious. In those situations, you should contact your healthcare provider right away. They may order some tests like blood work and imaging scans to find the source of the problem. In very rare situations, swollen lymph nodes can indicate cancer of the lymphatic system called lymphoma.

When lymph nodes swell, they alert your immune system to look for any harmful cells in the area. Usually, this causes the lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, groin and tonsils to swell up. The swollen nodes are sometimes painful, but that’s usually just because the lymph nodes are fighting off an infection.

Generally, the only way you know that your lymph nodes are swollen is by feeling them or looking at them. They’re usually soft and round like a pea or peanut. They can also feel hard or rubbery, depending on the condition causing them to swell.

The swollen nodes are usually the first thing to catch your attention when you’re ill. In the case of a viral or bacterial infection, your doctor will most likely recommend supportive care which includes resting and taking medication to relieve the pain and fever. For serious conditions, your healthcare provider will most likely want to perform a biopsy of one or more lymph nodes to take a sample and put it under a microscope. They will use this to see if cancer cells are present and then recommend treatment if they are.

Most people with swollen lymph nodes won’t need to do anything beyond the supportive care suggested by your healthcare provider. If cancer cells are present, however, it’s very important to follow your doctor’s advice about treatment which might include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, bone marrow transplant or some combination of these treatments.