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Swollen glands

Swollen lymph glands can be a sign the body is fighting an infection, such as colds or glandular fever. Some people say 'your glands are up'.

Doctors may also refer to the glands as lymph nodes and the swelling as lymphadenopathy.

What are the lymph glands?

Lymph glands are an important part of the body's immune system defences and are found throughout the body. They can often be felt in the neck, in the armpits and in the groin.

They are part of what's called the lymphatic system, that also includes the tonsils and adenoids.

Normally the glands are as small as peas but can grow to several centimetres across when they begin fighting infection with the white blood cells they carry.

People of any age can get swollen glands, and children may get them when coming into contact with more children when starting at school.

Symptoms of swollen gland

As well as the classic swollen glands that may be seen or felt, symptoms may include

Causes of swollen lymph glands

Swollen glands can be due to infections such as colds and flu, tonsillitis, glandular fever, ear infections, and dental abscess.

Health conditions that may cause swollen glands include HIV, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, and types of cancer such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

Do I need medical treatment for swollen glands?

Swollen glands will usually (but not always) get smaller again once the infection that triggered the swelling has cleared up.

Seek medical advice if:

  • Swollen glands haven't gone down after a couple of weeks
  • The glands keep getting bigger
  • The glands feel hard to the touch and don't move around when touched
  • You have trouble breathing or swallowing and a sore throat
  • There is unplanned weight loss
  • You have night sweats
  • You have a fever that stays high
  • You feel unwell without an obvious cause.

Diagnosis of swollen glands

A doctor will diagnose swollen glands based on the symptoms, feeling and examining the glands and the person's medical history.

They'll also want to pinpoint the cause of the swollen glands, such as an infection or medical condition.

Tests may be arranged, including:

Treatment for swollen glands

Basic home care for swollen glands related to infection involves:

Further medical treatment may be needed for underlying medical conditions causing the swelling and this may need a referral to a specialist once the cause is identified.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 12, 2016

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