Lymphadenopathy means swelling of the lymph nodes or glands. These are the bean-shaped glands in the neck, armpits, groin, chest, and abdomen. These glands act as filters for lymphatic fluid. This fluid contains white blood cells (lymphocytes) that help the body fight infection. Lymphadenopathy can occur in just one area of the body, such as the neck. Or it may affect lymph nodes throughout the body. The cervical lymph nodes, found in the neck, are the most common site of lymphadenopathy.
Nearly all children will get lymphadenopathy at some time. That is because enlarged glands often occur with viral or bacterial infections like colds, the flu, or strep throat.
The lymphatic system is part of the immune system. The immune system fights infection and other disease. Cells and fluid build up in the lymph nodes to help fight infection or disease. This causes the lymph nodes to get bigger.
Enlarged lymph nodes are often near the source of infection, so their location can help find out the cause. For example, a baby with a scalp infection may have enlarged lymph nodes at the back of the neck. Swollen lymph nodes around the jaw may be a sign of an infection in the teeth or mouth. Lymphadenopathy may also affect lymph nodes throughout the body. This is common in some viral illnesses such as mono (infectious mononucleosis) or chickenpox.
The causes include:
In children, it is normal to be able to feel some lymph nodes as small, movable lumps under the skin. But if the nodes get bigger than usual, your child may have an infection or other problem. The most common symptoms include:
Depending on the cause, other symptoms may include:
The symptoms of lymphadenopathy can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask many questions about your child’s health history and current symptoms. For example, he or she will ask whether your child has been around others with infections like strep throat. He or she may ask if your child has been around a young cat. This is because a scratch may cause enlarged lymph nodes in a mild condition called cat scratch disease. He or she will check your child, looking closely at the areas where lymph nodes are enlarged. The provider will check the size and location of the nodes. He or she will also want to know how long they have been swollen and if they are painful. Your child may need to see a specialist. He or she may also need some diagnostic tests. They may include:
Your child may need to see a surgeon for biopsy. Or he or she may be referred to specialists in blood disorders and cancer. These can include a pediatric hematologist and oncologist.
The treatment of enlarged lymph nodes depends on the cause. Enlarged lymph nodes are often harmless and go away without any treatment. Treatment may include:
Call your child’s healthcare provider if:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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