Lymph nodes and Disease

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Lymph nodes are filters in the lymphatic system that sieve out infectious material as well as toxins that come via the lymphatic channels. These may be affected commonly by certain diseases or conditions.

The diseases or disorders of the lymphatic system and lymph nodes include lymphedema, lymphadenopathy and so forth. (1-5)

Lymphedema

Lymphedema is where Edema, or fluid collection, leads to swelling of limbs and other regions drained by the affected lymphatic channel.

The primary function of the lymph channels are to drain the fluids of the body. When this is impaired there may be swelling.

For example, if there is a blockage of the channels draining the legs, there may be excessive swelling of the leg.

It may be either primary or secondary. A primary condition is inherited and may be because of impaired or missing lymphatic vessels. This may appear at birth or may develop later in life with no palpable reasons or cause.

Secondary lymphedema usually occurs due to some acquired condition that has led to the lymphatic channel blockage or malfunctioning.

This could be after a surgery, injury or an infection. There may be damage to the channels or to the lymph nodes.

For therapy compression bandages may be tried to allow for adequate drainage of the accumulated lymph.

Lymphadenopathy

Lymphadenopathy occurs when the lymph nodes swell due to infections.

For example, an infection of the leg such as an abscess or cellulitis may lead to swelling of lymph nodes at the groin. These lymph nodes may be painful, red, warm and tender to touch.

Viral infections like measles, German measles (rubella), glandular fever, HIV AIDS etc. may also cause lymphadenopathy of all the lymph nodes.

Some conditions like rheumatoid arthritis affect the immunity and may lead to swollen lymph nodes.

Lymphadenitis

Lymphadenitis is inflammation of the lymph nodes usually caused due to infections

Lymphoma

Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system. This cancer may be of various forms.

The major classes are Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. These start as the lymphocytes in lymph nodes turn cancerous.

The lymphomas can begin in the stomach or intestinal lymph nodes as well.

Symptoms of lymphoma include fatigue or tiredness, fever, propensity for infections, unexplained weight loss and excessive sweating at night.

Other cancers like breast cancer (affects lymph nodes of the arm pit) may also spread to the nearest lymph nodes.

Filariasis

Filariasis is infection of the lymphatic channels by a worm or parasite

Splenomegaly

This is where the spleen is swollen due to a viral infection like infectious mononucleosis.

Tonsilitis

Tonsilitis is where the tonsils become infected, inflamed and swollen.

The tonsils normally protect the entrance of the gastrointestinal tract and the respiratory tract. The infection may lead to sore throat, fever, and severe difficulty and pain while swallowing.

Edited by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

What are lymph nodes?
Structure and function of lymph nodes
Swollen lymph nodes
Lymph node removal

Sources

  1. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/swollen-glands/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  2. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/CancerBasics/lymph-nodes-and-cancer
  3. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/937855-overview#showall
  4. http://www.mdguidelines.com/lymph-node-disorders
  5. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1899053-overview#showall

Last Updated: Jun 27, 2012

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