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January 16, 2017

Lymph nodes: usually a harmless phenomenon

You suddenly feel a knot in your neck, under your arm or in your groin. One of your lymph nodes has been set. The first reaction is usually a shock. In 99 of 100 cases is however not necessary. In fact; it means that your body does its job well. Probably you have a wound somewhere, or perhaps you have suffered a harmless infection. Your lymphatic system than does its utmost to fight harmful invaders.


In addition to the vascular system, we have a second system in our body: the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of lymph nodes which are connected to each other via lymphatic vessels. The lymphatic vessels run virtually parallel to the blood vessels.

The function of the lymphatic system

The lymphatic system has three important functions in our body. In the first place, the excess fluid and waste products that sit off around the cells in our body. The colorless liquid (lymph) is collected in the lymph vessels. Through the lymphatic vessels behind the clavicle, the liquid is dispensed from our blood. Because the lymph vessels are provided with valves that operate only one way, the lymph can not flow back from the blood to the lymph vessels. The lymph vessels carry besides liquid also fat we ingest through our food. They pick up the digested fat from the intestinal tract and to give it off to our blood.

For the lymph enters the lymph vessels, the first flows through a large number of lymph nodes. These glands contain white blood cells (lymphocytes) that can make pathogens (viruses, bacteria) harmless. Also, they form antibodies. The purified lymph, together with antibodies, eventually issued by the lymph vessels to the blood. Through the blood of the antibodies can be used to combat viruses and bacteria elsewhere in the body. Lymph nodes are not for nothing called the purification stations of our body.

If there is an infection with viruses, bacteria or other pathogens, lymph nodes should expect stern. The white blood cells (lymphocytes) in the lymph nodes then multiply very quickly. This ensures that set up the lymph nodes. In most cases, a swollen lymph node also just a sign that your body does its job well.

In our body, we have as many as 600 nodes. The glands are located together in groups in the armpits, along with the trachea, to the lungs, in the intestines and the back of the abdominal cavity, in the pelvic region and the groin. Most lymph glands lie just under the skin and are therefore easy to feel like they are set up. Especially in the neck, armpit and groin, often quickly fall enlarged lymph nodes. The lymph nodes in the abdomen and between the lungs can not be felt, even if they are set up.

Causes of enlarged lymph nodes

The most common causes of enlarged lymph nodes have an infection or a wound (you). Very occasionally, there is a so-called systemic disease. A single time is an enlargement of the lymph nodes caused by a malignant disorder of the lymph nodes by itself or a metastasis of cancer that originated elsewhere in the body.


In a vast majority of the cases, it is a swollen lymph node caused by inflammation as a result of a viral, bacterial, parasitic or fungal infection. Each lymph node ‘serves’ a specific area in your body. The lymph node inflammation is in whose area goes to work to make the pathogens and harmless swells. Especially in the neck are often swollen lymph nodes occur. An innocent colds, sore throats, cold sores (which is also caused by a virus) or influenza is usually the cause of this. Especially when children are swollen lymph glands in the neck so common that it is almost stranger to it – after good look – not to find, but to find one or several. A prolonged swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck is often caused by mononucleosis. In a bladder infection or infections on your feet or legs, lymph nodes will be set up in your groin and an infection on your hands or arms, the lymph nodes in your armpit go to work. The swelling of the lymph nodes disappears once the pathogens are eliminated. This usually takes a few weeks.


On our skin and in our area there are always countless bacteria. When a wound (you) your skin is broken, these bacteria can easily penetrate your body. This also almost always happens when you have a wound. That did not become infected, most wounds; you’ll almost always be attributed to the work of your lymph nodes. In some people, is only the smallest wound already sufficient to allow swelling of the lymph glands in the immediate vicinity? The swelling of the lymph nodes disappears once the pathogens are eliminated. This usually takes a few weeks.

Systemic diseases

Systemic diseases are diseases that cause damage to the whole body, for example, in all the nerve cells, blood cells or tissue cells. Certain system diseases can lead to the creation of the lymph nodes. In most cases, than the lymph nodes enlarged in large part of your body or the whole body. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis (the connective tissue of several joints is lit simultaneously, and is deformed), fibromyalgia (muscle fibers wither away and replaced by connective tissue), and lupus erythematosus (a connective tissue disease in which the body produces antibodies against endogenous substances). When the swelling of the lymph nodes is caused by a systemic disease, it does not often have prolonged existence.

Malignant disorders

In a very small minority of the cases, an enlarged lymph node is caused by a malignant disorder of the lymph gland itself (Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma), or by a metastasis of cancer that is started elsewhere in the body. With Hodgkin lymphoma will uncontrolled cell growth instead of the lymphatic tissue in the body and usually in the organs. Often the immune system severely weakened. The disease often starts as a painless, swollen lymph gland harder and larger than a normal stuffed lymph node. The swelling continues persisted. After some time, multiple lymph nodes will set up in the body. When the disease is more advanced, also lead to other symptoms such as fever, weight loss, itching and night sweats. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is treatable with early detection. In non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, there is also a malignant proliferation of lymphoid tissue. The disease causes largely the same symptoms as Hodgkin’s lymphoma but takes malicious.


When in doubt, go to the doctor

In the vast majority of cases to take the lymph nodes after a few weeks of their normal size by itself again. Sometimes it is wise to go to the doctor. Do you have besides the enlarged lymph nodes also suffer from other symptoms such as severe fatigue, high fever or severe weight loss, it is advisable to visit the doctor. Even if the swelling after a week or three is not yet gone, you better just go to the doctor. If not one, but several lymph nodes have been set up in your body or when, after an injury, suddenly red marks on your skin gets running to the lymph node of the wound, a visit to the doctor wisely. In the latter case, there may be an inflammation of the lymph node itself and should be treated with medication.

The doctor will first ask a few questions: how long is the enlarged lymph nodes are present, the glands hurt, there are more complaints, you have something on your body a wound (you), you might run a risk of infection ( For example, you have been in the tropics, have you had contact with animals), etc .. the doctor will then examine the enlarged lymph node. He at this moment viewing include the consistency of the gland (a soft, soft gland is usually harmless), the size of the gland, or set up multiple glands, or even the surrounding tissue has been established and that the skin red and warm (this usually indicates inflammation).

If the doctor does not trust it, he will forward it to the hospital. This will have to identify the cause of the swollen lymph node (s) with additional research. This research often consists of blood tests, X-rays, a puncture and/or biopsy.

Average apparent at around 1% of the people who come to the doctor with an inexplicably large lymph node, seemed to be a malignancy. An enlarged lymph node in the vast majority of cases, therefore, a harmless phenomenon and just a sign of a well-functioning body. When in doubt, however, it is always wise to go to the doctor.

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