Adenopathy: Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment and Complications

Also known as lymphadenopathy, it refers to lymph nodes that have become enlarged or swollen due to infection.

Likewise, the cause may be the result of other health problems, such as autoimmune disorders or cancer.

With cancer, adenopathy can be caused by a malignancy that begins in the lymph nodes. It can also occur when a cancer spreads ( metastasizes ) from other parts of the body to the lymph nodes.

Lymph nodes may be enlarged due to primary lymph node cancers (lymphomas) or secondary (metastatic) cancers that have spread to lymph nodes elsewhere in the body.

Adenopathy due to cancer tends to produce a firm, painless lymph node enlargement, but a biopsy (removal of a tissue sample) is necessary to determine if an enlarged lymph node is due to cancer.

The lymphatic system

Your body has a lymphatic system that is made up of lymphatic vessels, lymphatic fluid, and lymph nodes.

The network of lymphatic vessels carries lymphatic fluid throughout the body. This fluid, among other functions, collects waste products and disease-causing microorganisms (such as viruses and bacteria) on its journey through tissues.

Its main function is to filter waste from the lymphatic fluid. As they do so, the lymphocyte army aims to neutralize any foreign agents it encounters.

While some lymph nodes are located superficially, in the groin, armpit, and neck, for example, others are located deeper in the body, such as in the chest or abdomen.

Specific lymph nodes are associated with specific areas of the body, and enlargement of a particular lymph node can suggest where an infection may be found.

Generalized lymph node enlargement can occur with some generalized infections, and adenopathy can be the result of serious infections, such as HIV.

During an active infection or injury, the lymph nodes swell and become tender. The most common lymph nodes that you may notice as enlarged are in the groin, neck, armpit, under the jaw, and behind the ears.

An enlarged lymph node can be painless or tender and can be firm or soft, fixed or freely movable, depending on the cause of the enlargement. When this happens, adenopathy can take several forms.

It can be localized (occurs in one area of ​​the body), bilateral (on both sides of the body), or generalized (occurs throughout the body). It can be acute (happen suddenly and resolve quickly) or chronic (persistent).

It can be characterized by the location of the nodes, such as around the neck (cervical), groin (inguinal), chest (mediastinal), armpits (axillary), or abdomen (mesenteric).

What are the symptoms of adenopathy?

Lymph nodes in the neck may swell if an infection is present. Lymph node enlargements can vary in size and can be as small as a pencil eraser.

Although there are hundreds of lymph nodes in a person’s body, only a few can be felt. Many people notice that the lymph nodes in the neck or armpits swell when they have an infection, such as the cold or flu virus.

This is because the lymph nodes are filling with immune cells and germ debris. Other groups of lymph nodes that can be felt when swollen are near the back of the head, belly, or groin.

Common symptoms of adenopathy

Sometimes any of these symptoms can be serious:

  • Enlarged lymph node.
  • Fatigue and general malaise.
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Heaviness or weakness in a limb.
  • Painful lymph nodes.
  • Swelling in nearby tissue.

In most cases, the swollen lymph nodes will return to their usual size once the infection has been treated or clears.

Symptoms that may indicate a serious condition

In some cases, adenopathy can be a serious condition that needs to be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical attention (call your emergency doctor) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these serious symptoms:

  • Adenopathy that persists for weeks.
  • Labored breathing
  • Night sweats.
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness or loss of sensation in a limb or region around the adenopathy.

Anyone experiencing swallowing or breathing problems due to adenopathy should call a doctor immediately.

How to identify swollen lymph nodes

Of your hundreds of lymph nodes, you can only feel a few of them. Clusters of nodes can be felt near the skin in the neck, armpits, back of the head, belly, and groin. You can feel and sometimes even see these nodes when they are enlarged.

When this happens, you may notice the following:

  • Pea- or bean-sized lumps under the skin.
  • Tenderness or pain when touched.
  • Redness and warmth of the skin over the swollen glands.

Once the infection clears, the lymph nodes should return to normal. Call your doctor right away if you have trouble swallowing or breathing. You should also make an appointment with your doctor.

What is the cause?

Most of the time, your lymph nodes swell because your body is fighting an infection from a virus or bacteria. The nodules fill with immune cells, viruses or bacteria, and fluids, making them larger than normal.

In rare cases, swollen lymph nodes can be caused by other, more serious diseases.

Common causes of adenopathy include strep throat , ear infections, and mononucleosis.

More rarely, lymph nodes can swell due to injury, other diseases, or cancer.

Infectious causes of adenopathy

Most cases of swollen lymph nodes are caused by viruses or bacteria. Often times, the swollen nodes will be close to the infection. For example, the glands in your neck will swell when you have a throat infection.

Bacterial and viral infections are among the common causes of adenopathy. Examples include:

  • Fungal or parasitic infections.
  • VIH.
  • Infectious mononucleosis.
  • Some sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Staphylococcus bacteria (estafilococo).
  • Streptococcus bacteria (estreptococo).

Non-infectious causes

You can also develop lymphadenopathy from other causes, from injury to autoimmune diseases. Non-infectious causes of adenopathy include:

Injury : inflammation in response to a foreign body. As your body works to heal a wound and prevent an infection from taking hold, your nodules near the injury may swell.

Certain medications : hypersensitivity to medications (anticonvulsant medications, antibiotics, allopurinol). Phenytoin (Dilantin) and drugs for the prevention of malaria are two examples of drugs that can cause swollen lymph nodes.

Systemic autoimmune disorders : Like sarcoidosis , this disease causes clumps of inflammatory cells (granulomas) to grow in different parts of your body. The lungs are frequently involved.

Rheumatoid arthritis : This autoimmune disease causes inflammation in the joints and sometimes other organs.

Lupus : This autoimmune disease causes inflammation in your organs, skin, and joints.

IgG4-related disease : This is an inflammatory condition that can cause damage and scarring in one or more systems of the body.

Is it cancerous?

Swollen lymph nodes can sometimes be caused by cancer, but lymphadenopathy is much more likely to be caused by infection.

In rare cases, swollen lymph nodes can be a sign of:

Lymphoma : This is a type of cancer that begins in the lymphatic system or in a lymph node.

Leukemia : is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, which can also affect the lymphatic system.

Secondary (metastatic) cancers that spread from other regions of the body.

If you have any of the following symptoms along with swollen lymph nodes, see your doctor immediately:

  • Weightloss.
  • Easy bruising and bleeding.
  • Fever or fatigue that lasts for weeks.
  • Night sweats.

No matter the suspected cause of your swollen lymph nodes, they are a sign that something is wrong with your body. It’s often just a mild infection, but if the inflammation doesn’t subside or you have other worrisome symptoms, always see your doctor.

What are the risk factors for adenopathy?

Anyone can get adenopathy, and risk factors vary widely depending on the cause of the adenopathy. A small number of factors increase the risk of developing adenopathy.

Not all people with risk factors will get adenopathy. Risk factors for adenopathy include:

  • Current history of cancer.
  • Family history of cancer.
  • Frequent infections

How is it diagnosed?

They are a symptom of some underlying condition. Your doctor will first want to determine if your lymphadenopathy affects only one area of ​​your body (localized) or if it affects two or more areas of the body (generalized).

If nodes throughout your body are swollen, your doctor will suspect that it is a more serious disease that affects the entire body.

To help determine the root cause of your swollen glands, your doctor will do some or all of the following, depending on what you need:

Ask questions : Your doctor will want to know how long your nodules have swollen, any other symptoms you have, when your symptoms started, and what medications you take.

Perform an exam : Your doctor will feel the lymph nodes near the surface of your skin to check their size, if they are painful, and if they feel warm. The location, size, and texture of the swollen nodes give the doctor clues to possible causes.

Order blood tests : Depending on what your doctor thinks may be causing the swollen lymph nodes, blood tests may be used to confirm or rule out suspected underlying conditions.

Sort images : X-rays or CT scans can be used to help find sources of infection, swollen lymph nodes in the body, or look for tumors.

Do a biopsy : Your doctor may remove a sample of the lymph node through a needle or by removing it entirely.

Adenopathy itself is not a disease, but rather a sign of an underlying disease or other condition. Doctors will first identify the location of the swollen lymph nodes.

Adenopathy is classified according to the location of the swollen lymph nodes:

  • Localized adenopathy affects only one area of ​​the body.
  • Bilateral adenopathy occurs on both sides of the body.
  • Generalized adenopathy occurs in multiple places in the body.

Adenopathy can also be classified as acute or chronic:

  • Acute adenopathy appears suddenly and disappears quickly.
  • Chronic adenopathy persists for a longer period of time.

Superficial lymph nodes just under the skin can often be checked with a physical exam.

How is adenopathy treated?

Lymphadenopathy caused by a bacterial infection is treated with antibiotics. Over-the-counter pain relievers may also be helpful for symptomatic treatment associated with adenopathy.

Your doctor will not treat your swollen lymph nodes directly. They will treat the underlying condition causing the swelling.

Treatment of infectious causes of adenopathy

Treatments include:

Antibiotics can be used to treat a bacterial infection. The exact antibiotic prescribed will depend on the type of bacterial infection.

Antifungal or anthelmintic medications are indicated for fungal or parasite infections.

Antiviral medications can be used for some serious or chronic viral infections.

Over-the-counter pain relievers and fever-reducing medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), may be helpful in reducing the pain associated with adenopathy and associated symptoms.

Home treatment options

Home treatments such as warm compresses or ice pads can help ease any discomfort in the area, here are some tips to ease it:

Heat : Put a warm compress, such as a warm washcloth or heating pad, on the affected area.

Cold – Sometimes heat can irritate already sensitive skin or sore body parts. Cold compresses can help relieve inflammation if a warm compress is not effective.

Rest : Rest can help you recover from your underlying illness.

If your swollen lymph nodes were caused by a viral infection, your doctor probably won’t prescribe any medications. Antibiotics do not work on viruses. For certain viruses, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine.

Bacterial infections are generally treated with antibiotics. Serious infections throughout the body, inflammatory diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer will require special treatment plans. Your doctor will work with you on that treatment plan or send you to a specialist.

Your outlook will vary depending on the cause of your swollen glands. If your adenopathy is the result of a mild infection, your lymph nodes will return to normal shortly after the infection clears.

If your adenopathy is caused by a more serious condition, your doctor will work with you on a treatment plan.

Possible complications

Complications of adenopathy vary widely depending on the underlying cause. Complications from the adenopathy itself are often serious, but complications from underlying diseases, such as cancer, can be life-threatening.

Adenopathy and cancer

Cancer adenopathy is the term used to describe the swelling of the lymph nodes due to cancer. Each behaves and develops differently, but both originate from the lymphocytes themselves. Adenopathy is just one of the characteristics of these diseases.

Most commonly, cancer adenopathy occurs when a malignant disease in one part of the body (known as a primary tumor) spreads to other parts of the body to create new (secondary) tumors. Lymph nodes are the most commonly affected organs.

How does cancer spread through the lymph nodes?

When a tumor metastasizes, cancer cells break away from the primary tumor and spread to other parts of the body through the circulatory (blood) or lymphatic system.

When cells are in the blood, they crawl into the bloodstream until they get trapped somewhere, usually a capillary. From this point on, the cell can slide through the capillary wall and create a new tumor wherever it lands.

Cancer cells break off and are carried to the lymph nodes where they get stuck.

While the nodules will respond with an aggressive immune attack, some of the cancer cells will survive to form a new tumor.

But this is where the difference lies: Unlike the circulatory system, which can transport cancer cells to almost any part of the body, the distribution of cancer through the lymphatic system is more limited.

The nodes closest to the tumor will generally be affected first. From there, the extra cells can break off and move to distant nodes in other parts of the body.

Because of the way the lymph nodes are affected, doctors routinely check them to see if the cancer has started to spread and, if so, by how much.

How does adenopathy affect cancer treatment?

Adenopathy alone does not alter the course of cancer treatment. However, having cancer cells in the lymph nodes can affect treatment to the extent that it will inform the stage of your disease.

One of the most common systems for staging cancer is the TNM system, which is based on the extent of the tumor (T), the degree of spread to the lymph nodes (N), and the presence of metastases (M).

If cancer is not found in lymph nodes near the tumor, N will be assigned a value of 0. If nearby or distant nodes show cancer, N will be assigned a value of 1, 2, or 3 based on:

  • How many nodes are involved.
  • Where the nodes are located.
  • How big are the nodes.
  • How much cancer is in them.

The recommended course of treatment will be based largely on staging. The staging will also be used to provide the ICD-10 diagnostic code, which your health insurer will use to approve treatment.

Cancer adenopathy vs. Infection-related adenopathy

Not all adenopathies are the same. Cancerous nodes tend to be hard, painless, and firmly attached to the surrounding tissue.

Benign or non-cancerous lymph nodes, on the other hand, are usually painful to the touch and will decrease in size and density as the infection resolves.

That said, the cause of adenopathy cannot be diagnosed by physical features alone. In some cases, such a cancerous node it can press on a nearby nerve and cause pain.

In others, a benign node may be difficult and relatively painless (such as those that can occur with the persistent generalized lymphadenopathy seen in HIV).

Do I have cancer if I have swollen lymph nodes?

Adenopathy is a non-specific symptom that can be caused by any number of things. By itself, adenopathy has no diagnostic value. Most of the time, however, the adenopathy will be caused by an infection rather than cancer.

That being said, if your lymph nodes are constantly swollen and / or enlarged, you should seek medical attention. If you are already receiving cancer treatment, tell your doctor if you find swollen lymph nodes anywhere in your body.