Swollen glands

Your glands, or lymph nodes, often swell in response to bacteria or viruses present in your body. They’re an important part of your immune system which helps to fight infection.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

Summary

You may notice swollen glands in your neck and under your jaw, in your armpits and in your groin.

Swollen lymph nodes will usually go away on their own after one or two weeks. However, if they become very swollen or are causing you pain you should seek treatment from your GP. If you’re having difficulty breathing or swallowing because of swollen lymph nodes, seek medical attention immediately.

Causes of swollen glands

Your lymph nodes are normally pea-sized but will swell if you have an infection. They function as filters, and trap viruses and bacteria before they can affect other areas of your body. Many common infections can cause the lymph nodes to swell, such as:

  • Chicken pox
  • Ear infections
  • Flu
  • Glandular fever
  • The common cold
  • Throat infections (such as strep throat or tonsillitis) which cause swollen glands and a sore throat

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

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Conditions related to swollen glands

Lymphadenitis, when your lymph nodes are swollen due to an infection, is the most common condition associated with swollen lymph nodes. In most cases, the swelling will go down normally with time as your immune system fights the infection

In rare cases, cancerous cells from elsewhere in your body can break off and spread to your lymph nodes. This causes the cells to grow further and the lymph nodes to swell. Generally, swollen lymph nodes due to cancers are painless at first and develop more gradually than those caused by infections.

Other more serious conditions that cause swollen lymph nodes include:

Getting a diagnosis for swollen glands

Your GP will carry out a physical examination of your lymph nodes. They’ll check the size of your lymph nodes and discuss any other symptoms you may be experiencing. For further diagnosis, your GP may refer you for additional tests. These can include:

The site of your swollen lymph nodes may help them identify the underlying cause. For example, infections of the leg or genitals can cause the lymph nodes in the groin to swell.

Treatments for swollen glands

Swollen lymph nodes will usually return to normal after the body has fought off an infection.

If swollen lymph nodes are caused by an underlying condition, your doctor will recommend treatment for these conditions which should reduce the swelling. This includes:

  • Antibiotics if swelling is caused by a bacterial infection
  • Chemotherapy or radiation therapy if swollen nodes are caused by cancer

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