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Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped glands throughout the body. They are part of the lymph system, which carries fluid (lymph fluid), nutrients, and waste material between the body tissues and the bloodstream.
The lymph system is an important part of the immune system, the body's defense system against disease. The lymph nodes filter lymph fluid as it flows through them, trapping bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances, which are then destroyed by special white blood cells called lymphocytes.
Lymph nodes may be found singly or in groups. And they may be as small as the head of a pin or as large as an olive. Groups of lymph nodes can be felt in the neck, groin, and underarms. Lymph nodes generally are not tender or painful. Most lymph nodes in the body cannot be felt.
Lymph nodes often swell in one location when a problem such as an injury, infection, or tumor develops in or near the lymph node. Which lymph nodes are swollen can help identify the problem.
Common sites for swollen lymph nodes include the neck, groin, and underarms.
When lymph nodes swell in two or more areas of the body, it is called generalized lymphadenopathy. This may be caused by:
Treatment for swollen glands focuses on treating the cause. For example, a bacterial infection may be treated with antibiotics, while a viral infection often goes away on its own. If cancer is suspected, a biopsy may be done to confirm the diagnosis.
Any swollen lymph nodes that don't go away or return to normal size within about a month should be checked by your doctor.
Lymph nodes may remain swollen or firm long after an initial infection is gone. This is especially true in children, whose glands may decrease in size while remaining firm and visible for many weeks.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Charles M. Myer, III, MD - Otolaryngology|
|Last Revised||December 6, 2012|
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