Lymphadenopathy: Causes, Symptoms, Types, Diagnosis and Treatment

It refers to the enlargement of the lymph nodes.

Lymph nodes are small round structures that are present throughout the body. They provide a home for cells, which are involved in protecting the human body against infection.

Lymphadenopathy can appear in only one part of the body, in which case it is called “localized,” or it can be present in two or more areas of the body, in which case it is called “generalized.”

The neck, armpits, and groin are the parts of the body where enlarged lymph nodes are most easily felt. Lumps in these areas are the most common sign of lymphadenopathy.

Lymphadenopathy reflects a disease that affects the reticuloendothelial system , secondary to an increase in normal lymphocytes and macrophages in response to an antigen.


Lymphadenopathy can occur for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • Infections –  the most common reason.
  • Lymphomas and leukemias, white blood cell cancer.
  • Cancers in other sites that spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Diseases of the immune system, such as lupus and sarcoidosis.
  • A long list of many other rare diseases.

Most lymphadenopathy in children is due to a benign, self-limited disease, such as viral infections.

Other less common causes responsible for adenopathy include lymph node accumulation of inflammatory cells in response to infection in the node, neoplastic lymphocytes or macrophages, or metabolite-laden macrophages in storage diseases (Gaucher disease).


It is normal to feel lymph nodes as small lumps under the skin, but if there is an infection or other problem, the lymph nodes may be enlarged and cause pain, tenderness, redness, and warmth. Depending on the cause of the condition, other symptoms may occur, including:

  • Body pain.
  • Fever.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Respiratory symptoms such as cough or congestion.
  • Fatigue.
  • Headache.

Why do the lymph nodes swell?

Doctors view lymph node enlargement differently based on the signs and symptoms that accompany swollen lymph nodes.

Sometimes it is clear that swollen lymph nodes are due to infection. For example, enlarged lymph nodes along the neck can be a common feature of infectious mononucleosis, a disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.

Other times, swollen lymph nodes can be more mysterious and should be investigated.

Types of lymphadenopathy

Lymphadenopathy can have additional descriptions, depending on where in the body the lymph nodes are swollen. Here are some examples and their relevance to leukemia and lymphoma.

Cervical lymphadenopathy

Cervical lymph node swelling refers to enlarged lymph nodes in the neck region. This is a very common feature of viral infections.

Less commonly, swollen lymph nodes in the neck can be a sign of malignancy.

Mediastinal lymphadenopathy

Mediastinal lymphadenopathy occurs in the mediastinum. Mediastinum is an anatomical term that can be considered as an imaginary box or container, and also for all the contents of the box.

The lymph nodes of the mediastinum may enlarge on their own or in conjunction with diseases of the lungs.

What is generalized lymphadenopathy?

When more than two nodes are affected from different areas, this is called generalized lymphadenopathy. The involvement of different areas can be a clue as to which diseases might be responsible.

Generalized lymphadenopathy is found in two-thirds of children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and in one-third of children with acute myeloblastic leukemia.


Lymph node swelling can be detected during physical examination, in areas such as the armpits, armpits, or neck and groin regions. Image source

When the cause of lymphadenopathy is unclear, doctors may recommend tests such as fine needle aspiration cytology or FNAC.


Treatment of lymphadenopathy depends on the reason for the lymph node enlargement.

Lymphadenopathy is often harmless and resolves independently, without the need for treatment.