Lymphadenitis is an infection of the lymph nodes (also called lymph glands). It is a common complication of certain bacterial infections.
Lymph node infection; Lymph gland infection; Localized lymphadenopathy
The lymph system is a network of organs, lymph nodes, lymph ducts, and lymph vessels (or channels) that produce and move a fluid called lymph from tissues to the bloodstream. For more information on this part of the body, see lymph system.
The lymph glands, or nodes, are small structures that filter the lymph fluid. There are many white blood cells in the lymph nodes to help fight infection.
Lymphadenitis occurs when the glands become overwhelmed by bacteria, virus, fungi, cancer cells, or inflamation. The swollen glands are usually found near the site of an underlying infection, tumor, or inflammation.
Lymphadenitis may occur after cellulitis or other bacterial infections, particularly those due to streptococcus or staphylococcus. Sometimes it's due to rare infections such as tuberculosis or cat scratch disease (Bartonella).
- Swollen, tender, or hard lymph nodes
- Red, tender skin over lymph node
Lymph nodes may feel soft and rubbery if an abscess has formed.
Exams and Tests
The doctor will perform a physical exam, which includes feeling your lymph nodes. The doctor may look for signs of injury around swollen lymph nodes.
A biopsy and culture of the affected area or node may reveal the cause of the inflammation. Blood cultures may reveal spread of infection to the bloodstream.
Lymphadenitis may spread within hours. Treatment should begin promptly.
Treatment may include:
- Antibiotics to treat any underlying infection
- Analgesics to control pain
- Anti-inflammatory medications to reduce inflammation and swelling
- Hot moist compresses to reduce inflammation and pain
Surgery may be needed to drain any abscess.
Prompt treatment with antibiotics may result in complete recovery, though it may take weeks, or even months, for swelling to disappear. The amount of time until recovery occurs will vary depending on the underlying cause.
- Abscess formation
- Sepsis (generalized or bloodstream infection)
- Fistulas (seen with lymphadenitis due to tuberculosis)
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider or go to the emergency room if you have symptoms of lymphadenitis.
Good general health and hygiene are helpful in the prevention of any infection.
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