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Reactive Cervical Lymphadenopathy

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Reactive Cervical Lymphadenopathy

Normal lymph nodes in the neck are usually less than 1 cm in length. Infections involving the pharynx, salivary glands, and scalp often cause tender enlargement of neck nodes. Enlarged nodes are common in HIV-infected persons. Except for the occasional node that suppurates and requires incision and drainage, treatment is directed against the underlying infection. An enlarged node (larger than 1.5 cm) or node with a necrotic center that is not associated with an obvious infection should be further evaluated, especially if the patient has a history of smoking, alcohol use, or prior cancer.

Reactive lymphadenopathy is when lymph glands respond to infection by becoming swollen.

Lymph glands or nodes are small nodules which help the body fight infection and they tend to become bigger when they are active. Swollen lymph glands are most easy to find at the back of the mouth (the tonsils), in the neck, armpits and groin. There are more all over the body and sometimes you can feel or see the enlarged glands, which may be painful.

Causes of cervical lymphadenopathy

Common causes of cervical adenopathy include tumor (squamous cell carcinoma, lymphoma, occasional metastases from non-head and neck sites) and infection (eg, reactive nodes, mycobacteria, and cat-scratch disease). Rare causes of adenopathy include Kikuchi disease (histiocytic necrotizing lymphadenitis) and autoimmune adenopathy.

Symptoms of lymphadenopathy

Usually, you can’t feel your own lymph nodes. When they’re swollen or reactive, however, you’ll likely be able to feel them when your press your hands against your skin. They might feel as small as a pea or as large as a golf ball. You could even be able to see the swelling in your neck, armpits, or groin.

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Keep in mind that you can have reactive lymph nodes in multiple areas of your body.

In addition to swelling, it’s possible to feel the following when you touch your lymph nodes:

  • tenderness
  • pain
  • warmth

Depending on the underlying cause, you might also have a range of other symptoms. If your lymph nodes are responding to an upper reparatory infection, for example, you could have a runny nose, sore throat, or fever.

Swollen lymph nodes can occur in just one area of the body or in multiple locations.

Treatment of lymphadenopathy

Swollen lymph nodes often don’t need treatment. Some minor viral infections, such as the flu, simply have to run their course. Viral infections can’t be treated with antibiotics.

To help with painful or tender lymph nodes while you heal, try:

  • applying a warm, wet compress to the swollen area
  • taking over-the-counter pain relievers
  • getting plenty of rest and fluids

Other infections, such as bacterial infections, may require antibiotics or other medications. If you have an autoimmune condition or cancer, your treatment options will depend on the type and stage of your condition.

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