Lymph nodes, which are at times erroneously referred to as lymph glands, are an integral part of your lymphatic system, which makes up the immune system in the body. When you have a swollen lymph node, it implies that you could be infected. Lymph nodes, which happen to be small, bean-shaped tissue nodules come in several groups.
The nodes that are normally swollen or enlarged are the ones found at the rear part of your neck, its front, and on the sides as well. Lymph node locations also include in the groin, in your armpits, and below the chin.
Another set of lymph node locations comprises those found in your abdomen and chest. For this group, the only way to know whether they are swollen or not would be to take a CT scan or an X-ray.
What are the lymph nodes?
These are small cell clusters that are normally surrounded by capsules. There are normally ducts that will be going inside and outside the capsules. These cells found inside a node are known as lymphocytes.
Their job is to produce antibodies that then bind on to foreign particles, e.g., those causing infectious diseases. Besides, they also produce macrophages whose main role is to digest any debris that may be present.
Lymph nodes essentially act as the cleaner cells in a human body.
Where are lymph nodes located?
Here’s a quick chart to start with:
Lymph nodes serve as a major site where infectious agents and foreign substances get to interact with your immune system. One of the biggest clusters of these nodes happens to be the spleen. Your spleen serves numerous functions, key among them being the elimination of foreign substances, e.g., infections from your body.
Below is a look at some of the locations where the lymph nodes can be found.
Lymph Node locations in the head
Occipital lymph nodes are an essential part of your lymphatic system. These particular nodes can be found in the occipital part of your head. This is the part found behind your skull. When looking at lymph node locations, it is essential to note that the lymph nodes tend to be kidney-shaped or oval, and can be found throughout your body.
These nodes are linked to each other by vessels that make up your circulatory system. They tend to be a major site where white blood cells and the B and T lymphocytes can be located. This is what makes them essential to your immune system.
When a swollen occipital node is noted, it could mean that you have an infection or an illness. It is likely to occur when you have suffered a bacterial or viral infection. Swollen lymph node locations normally help the doctor establish the kind of infection that one could be suffering from.
It is likely for the occipital node to become painful as the nearby nerves start pressing the node. What causes swelling in your occipital lymph node?
- The scalp of Head infections
A head infection is always the most obvious reason as to why your occipital nodes could be swollen. A node that is swollen will normally be tender to your touch and will feel as though it has been raised from the skin surface. Ringworms, lice, or dandruff may cause an infection.
When you mention sexually transmitted diseases, you have to include infections from syphilis, mononucleosis, and HIV. Inflamed nodes are commonly associated with these three infections. For instance, Mono targets nodes that are in your upper body and will normally cause them to start swelling. Mono is also known as the kissing disease, as it is commonly transmitted via an exchange of saliva.
- Throat Infections
They are known to cause sore throats, discomfort, irritation, and difficulty swallowing. A throat infection can be accompanied by a patch on your tonsils, inflamed neck glands, and hoarseness when speaking. Infections in this area are often attributed to viruses and bacteria.
Tonsils are a kind of lymph nodes which can also easily become swollen. When these happen, the only solution is to have them removed. They are found near the top of your throat but at the back of your mouth.
They serve the same function as the other lymph nodes spread out all over the body and are crucial in assisting your body fight infections. Tonsils that have become swollen can make it difficult to swallow and may lead to fever, pain in the ears, and chills.
An inflamed node occurring behind your ears could be caused by many varied factors, some of which tend to be more serious than the others. The lymph nodes, which, as mentioned earlier, are spread throughout your body, assists in storing fluids and nutrients, and also assist in the elimination of waste products.
Nodes behind your ears also assist in fighting damaging elements that could be in your blood, viruses, and bacteria. When the infection has successfully been eliminated from your body, the nodes absorb all the remaining elements and ensure that they are filtered out of the body immediately.
It is a process that can temporarily cause the lymph nodes to become swollen, though in such cases, they are not painful, and may even go unnoticed. Causes of swollen nodes behind your ears include:
Infections, e.g., bacteria that may be present in your mouth and fungal infection, can lead to nodes behind your ears becoming swollen. Given that they mainly help in fighting infections that have found their way into the body, they are constantly being exposed to all kinds of pathogens. Therefore, as they start to produce antibodies to assist in fighting off the infections, they begin to swell.
Damage to your neck or head region could cause the nodes in this region to begin to swell. The swelling will take place as the body is attempting to make repairs. A minor cut is enough to cause the body to start swelling due to the overproduction of antibodies.
- Autoimmune diseases
When we mention autoimmune diseases, we are talking about conditions such as Hashimoto’s disease and lupus. The two conditions, among others, causes swelling in the nodes behind your ears because these diseases have already damaged the immune system in the body.
- German Measles
It is caused by a virus known as rubella, and which manifests itself in the form of a pink or red rash appearing on your skin surface. Traditionally, the rash first appears on your face, and then slowly starts to work its way to the other sections of the body. Apart from the rash, you can also expect to notice inflamed nodes behind your ears.
Locations in armpits (axillary)
Inflammation in the armpits is also known as having armpit lumps. They come about when one of your nodes located under your armpits become inflamed or swollen. Swollen nodes vary, as some are small, while others could be noticeable upon close observation.
They could be caused by antiperspirant use, irritation caused by shaving, or cysts infections. But they may also indicate that one has a serious underlying medical condition. It is advisable to seek medical attention if you find that the lump is slowly becoming enlarged, is not painful or causing you any discomfort, and has refused to disappear.
Many of these lumps tend to be harmless and only come about when you have abnormal tissue growth. However, not all lumps are similar, as some could be related to a medical condition. You need to have a physician take a look at any unusual lumps that may have started to manifest. Common causes of these lumps include:
- Allergic reactions
- An allergic reaction to a vaccination
- Breast cancer
- Fungal infections
- Viral or bacterial infections
Diagnosis of swollen armpit nodes
A physical examination must first be conducted before a proper diagnosis of the armpit lump can be made. The doctor needs to make some inquiries on any changes that may have occurred in that lump, and whether you have been experiencing any pain. A massage will normally be used to establish the consistency and texture of any lump found under the armpits.
It is something that must exclusively be done using hands. There are instances where the physical exam will show that a lump is in no way harmful, e.g., benign lumps like those associated with lipomas. Such lumps will not require you to be treated as they will disappear on their own, though medication may be provided if a lump proves to be bothersome.
From the results of your physical examination, your doctor could find it necessary to order additional tests in a bid to rule out cancerous changes, allergic reactions, or infections. Some of the tests that may be ordered include:
- Allergy testing
- Complete blood count. It is used to establish the number of white and red blood cells that are currently present in the system.
- Breast or chest X-ray
Lymph node locations in the neck (cervical)
Posterior cervical lymph nodes refer to the bundles of glands that are found in the cervical region of your spine or behind your neck. The glands which are a part of your immune system normally have white blood cells that scavenge your system for infections and then wade them off.
Lymphadenopathy or swollen cervical lymph nodes typically indicate that you may have an infection. This is because the nodes assist in filtering out harmful microorganisms and pathogens from your system.
Lymphatic tissue often takes the shape of a vessel or a node and then goes on to form the lymphatic system. Your neck region, combined with different areas of your body, normally have lymph nodes spread all over. Each node is responsible for a certain region. In the region where it has been deployed, it will need to deploy immune cells and provide assistance in the draining of fluids (lymphatic).
Given the role they play in your body, a doctor can pinpoint the location of infection by looking at the nodes. When you are suffering from a disease or have an infection, these nodes will normally start to release white blood cells into the system.
This is what causes the nodes to start swelling. Common causes of swollen posterior cervical lymph nodes include:
- An infection. Infections are often characterized by fever, congestion, and aches all over the body. Common infections that can cause your nodes to become swollen include:
- Epstein-Barr virus
- Systemic causes. These include lupus, HIV, and rheumatoid arthritis
- Drugs and vaccines
In the back
Inflamed lymph nodes in your back indicate that one has a viral or bacterial infection. But the same nodes could also be an indication of cancer. Swollen lymph nodes in your back region mean that the nodes in the upper and lower section have started to malfunction. Some of the factors that could be causing this include:
As previously mentioned, infections are the leading cause of swollen lymph nodes. This is because the immune system attempts to fight back when it detects an infection in your body, and the release of the white blood cells causes the nodes to become inflamed. Mononucleosis is another known cause. It is a type of infection that occurs when one comes into contact with saliva that is infected.
Other known causes include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Skin infections
- Ear sores
Symptoms accompanying swollen nodes in the back include:
- A sore throat
- Slight tenderness in affected lymph nodes
- Swelling of your muscles
- Rapid weight loss
- High fever
- Night Sweats
- A runny nose
Thoracic lymph nodes (chest)
Thoracic lymph nodes are normally divided into two main groups: parietal lymph nodes and visceral lymph nodes. The former is found in your thoracic walls, while the latter can be found in your internal organs. Due to the different lymph node locations, abnormalities occurring with the nodes located in the chest or thorax are not easy to identify.
But any variations in the number or size of a lymph node can easily indicate the presence of many pulmonary and extrapulmonary health conditions. To simplify the diagnosis process, the lymph nodes that are in the thorax section can further be broken down into some subcategories.
Lung lymph nodes are located in the bronchi, while the tracheobronchial and paratracheal groups are in the neck area. They can also be found in the junction linking the trachea and the bronchi. They are the ones that deal with the drainage coming from the lymph nodes, heart, thoracic trachea, bronchi, and lungs.
In the thoracic aorta, there is a group of nodes known as the posterior mediastinal nodes, which are closely associated with the tracheobronchial nodes, which drain into a person’s thoracic duct. The lymph nodes in the chest wall are responsible for receiving drainage from the pectoral muscles, arms, and breasts.
In the stomach
According to Mayo Clinic, Lymphadenitis occurs when the nodes are inflamed. When this inflammation has an impact on the nodes that are in the membranes and the ones that connect your abdominal wall and bowel, then the condition is referred to as mesenteric lymphadenitis.
This condition is also known as mesenteric adenitis and often comes about when your intestines have become infected. It is a condition that mainly targets teenagers and children, and it has been known to mimic the signs that are associated with appendicitis.
But unlike appendicitis, this condition is not very serious, and it will normally clear on its own. Some of its known symptoms include:
- Tenderness in the abdominal region
- Abdominal pain that is normally centered in the lower section
The symptoms can vary depending on what is behind this ailment. Other symptoms that you need to look for will include:
- A general feeling of being unwell
- Vomiting and nausea
What causes this condition?
The condition is normally caused by viral infections, e.g., gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu. It is an infection that has been known to cause thin tissues connecting the intestines to the abdominal wall to start becoming swollen.
Given that lymph nodes are spread all over the body, it means that the nodes that are closest to the infection site will become inflamed. Children have, for instance, been known to develop upper respiratory infections before getting this condition.
In the groin (inguinal lymph nodes)
Groin nodes are commonly known as inguinal nodes. Many people, especially men, normally avoid going to the doctor whenever the area is inflamed due to the sensitive nature of their location. In many cases, the swelling subsides without the need for any treatment, but in serious cases, there is a need for one to seek medical attention. The inguinal lymph nodes are located in the lower pelvic area and the upper part of your leg.
These nodes are in some cases as small as a pea, and other instances, as big as a small olive. You should also note that they tend to be shaped like a bean. Inguinal lymph nodes are in charge of filtering the lymphatic fluid that drains through the following:
What causes their inflammation?
Swelling in this area can be attributed to an injury that may have been sustained in this region. Normally, the inflammation will start to reduce as the affected region begins to heal. Be sure to contact your physician if you find that the swelling is not going down, or if it has been accompanied by other symptoms.
It is mainly caused by:
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Allergic reactions
- Infections in the pelvic region, feet, or legs
- A hernia
- A reaction to drugs
- Benign cysts
- Fatty growths
Lymph nodes in legs
Exposure to viruses or bacteria has been known to cause swollen lymph nodes. As mentioned earlier, they assist in fighting infections by acting as filters. They trap bacteria and viruses before they can do any harm to your body.
There are situations where all you need to do is wait, and the swollen lymph nodes will heal on their own. However, you should note that the treatment method recommended by the physician will normally depend on what is causing this condition.
The most common causes are infections, e.g.,
- Strep throat
- Skin infections
- Ear infections
- Infected tooth
Apart from the common infections, there are other uncommon infections, e.g.,
- Cat scratch fever
- Sexually transmitted infections like syphilis
Immune system disorders that can cause this condition include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis—this is an inflammatory disease which targets the tissues lining your joints
- Lupus—another inflammatory disease targeting your lungs, joints, heart, skin, blood cells, and your kidneys.
Cancers that can cause this problem in your legs include:
- Lymphoma—this is cancer originating from your lymphatic system
- Leukemia—cancer of the blood which affects your lymphatic system and your bone marrow
Complications likely to occur if the swollen lymph nodes in your legs are not treated include:
- Infection of your bloodstream—any bacterial infection that could be present in the body may start progressing into sepsis—this takes place when the bloodstream has become overwhelmed by an infection. It can lead to organ failure and eventually, death.
- Abscess formation—abscesses are localized pus collections that have been brought about by an infection. Pus normally contains bacteria, dead tissue, and white blood cells. It must be drained as soon as possible.
In the knee
Popliteal lymph nodes comprise of between six and seven lymph nodes, which are found in your legs in the region close to your knees, and known as popliteal fossa. They are in charge of servicing the lower section of your legs and work on behalf of the lymphatic system.
These nodes come in two main sets, the superficial popliteal nodes, and the deep popliteal nodes. Lateral superficial trunks inside your legs are responsible for feeding these lymph nodes.
In a popliteal node, there is a fibrous outer capsule, which usually encloses your lymphatic tissue and is responsible for filtering and balancing out the blood being supplied to your lower extremities.
What is the role of lymph nodes?
The lymph nodes, which are a part of the lymphatic system, have the following functions:
- Fight infections and raise an immune reaction. The lymph nodes tend to be overactive when the body is fighting. In this case, they will swell up in a bid to deal with the infection.
- Filtering blood—the spleen is part of the lymphatic system and is in charge of filtering blood. It deals with all viruses, bacteria, and other unwanted particles.
- Draining blood into the tissues from the bloodstream—blood circulation through channels that are quite narrow often leads to plasms and fluids, that are carrying nutrients and oxygen leaking into tissues. They thus end up transporting the waste materials that are in these tissues and taking them into your lymphatic system.
- Filtering lymph at the nodes—lymph nodes have white blood cells that can attack any virus or bacteria that finds its way into the nodes.
It is important to note that if the swelling in the lymph nodes has been caused by a bacterial infection that has not been treated, it could end up spreading to your bloodstream, and this may pose serious complications later.
- Breast self-awareness. (n.d.).
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015). Breast lumps.
- Jarvis, C (2004). The Lymphatic System