Lymph node pain – why do lymph nodes hurt? Lymph nodes are usually undetectable under normal conditions. Enlarged and painful lymph nodes are associated with cancer and metastasis in many patients. Meanwhile, painful lymph nodes in the neck, for example, can come from a tooth. Painful lymph nodes are a sign of inflammation and infection in the body, and symptoms disappear after appropriate treatment.
Why do lymph nodes enlarge?
Lymph nodes are part of the immune system that protects the body from infections. They are painless and mobile formations, no larger than 0.4-0.8 inches, lying along the path of lymphatic vessels, also belonging to the lymphatic system. The function of the lymph nodes is to filter lymph (tissue fluid containing immune system cells) from microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi and destroy them.
They also take part in the production of antibodies (immune proteins that protect the body from parasites, bacteria and viruses). When a pathogenic microbe appears in the body, the number of immune cells in the nodes increases and the lymph nodes enlarge.
Lymph node inflammation
For lymphadenitis can only occur with a small skin lesion staple (inflammation of the palm surface of the finger) boil (infection of the hair follicle and sebaceous gland, sweat), panaritis (inflammation of the tissue surrounding the nail) or abscess.
On the medial (inner) surface of the limb, a painful redness (streak) of several millimeters appears, spreading from the site of infection to painful enlarged lymph nodes. The inflammatory process can also spread, leading to an inflammatory infiltrate.
What do tender, enlarged, and painful lymph nodes mean?
Nodes can be superficial and deep. Only the former are palpable (touchable). The largest are the axillary, inguinal, submandibular, and parotid nodes.
During physical examination, the doctor evaluates not only the size of the nodes, but also the following characteristics:
- Lymph node pain and soreness – that is, soreness when touched – is most often associated with a fast-growing node associated with an inflammatory process. Less commonly, the soreness is associated with a tumor process, bleeding into the node, or an immune response.
- Localization – limited enlargement is usually a local cause (e.g., enlargement of cervical and submandibular lymph nodes in dental disease), whereas generalized enlargement (i.e., various groups of nodes) may indicate systemic disease, including cancer.
- Consistency – Hard lymph nodes are associated with cancer in many cases, and soft lymph nodes with tuberculosis, diphtheria, or acute lymphadenitis .
- Shifting – the nodes are immobile in relation to the skin and the ground, forming bunches – is a symptom of chronic inflammation as well as cancer.
Pain in lymph nodes in the neck – sore throat or scarlet fever?
One of the causes of pain in the lymph nodes in children is angina , an infection of the upper respiratory tract. Angina is one of the most common acute diseases of the upper respiratory tract. It can be caused by both bacterial and viral infections affecting the mucosa of the throat and tonsils. This disease is associated with painful enlargement of lymph nodes in the neck, especially the submandibular nodes. Bacterial angina begins with fever, weakness, and sore throat, which may increase with swallowing and spread to the ear. Whitish spots appear on the palatine tonsils. Symptoms last about five days.
Enlarged and painful lymph nodes are also a sign of scarlet fever. The disease is commonly known as scarlatina. It indicates infection with streptococcus (bacteria) producing erythrogenic toxin. Most cases occur in the fall and winter. In the initial stage of the disease, the cervical lymph nodes swell up and are very painful, and a sore throat appears. Within about 24 hours after the onset of symptoms, a fine pale pink rash appears on the extremities, torso and face. As a result of increased vascular fragility, linear bruises (small red spots on the skin that do not lose color when pressed) are characteristic when the joints are bent and after pinching.
Lymph node pain and infectious diseases
Cat scratch disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae , which enters the human body when scratched by a cat. A few days after the transfer of the bacteria, a primary lesion appears near the scratch site, most often in the form of an inflammatory bump accompanied by redness of the skin. As the disease progresses, there is a painful enlargement of the lymph nodes .
There is pain in the lymph nodes in the armpit , in the area of flexion of the elbow, groin and neck, which occurs only on one side of the body. The nodes are displaced, rarely can become nasty. The other symptoms of the disease are nonspecific – weakness, elevated body temperature, headaches, loss of appetite.
Infectious mononucleosis is a disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) . It is characterized by enlargement and pain in the lymph nodes of the neck, especially the cervical ones, which are mobile. The enlargement is often accompanied by swelling of the tissue around the node, which may give the impression that the nodes are sticking together. Symptoms of mononucleosis also include fever, loss of appetite, swelling of the eyelids, bridge of the nose and superciliary arches (so-called Glantzman phenomenon), muscle pain, and pharyngitis.
A rash also occurs with rubella or measles. When the symptoms disappear, there is a characteristic period of weakness, fatigue, and malaise called chronic mononucleosis syndrome.
How do I recognize the cause of sore lymph nodes?
Sore, enlarged lymph nodes should never be taken lightly. A visit to the doctor is a must. A thoroughly collected interview and physical exam help establish the diagnosis – related symptoms often lead to the right path.
Inflammation usually increases inflammatory markers such as CRP, and white blood cell count. On the other hand, detection of a streptococcal infection simplifies a pharyngeal swab.
However, when the node enlargement persists for a longer period of time after resolution of the infection and, in addition, alarming symptoms such as weight loss, weakness, subfebrile fever, or fever appear, a more extensive diagnosis is required to rule out other diseases, including a neoplastic process.