If a few regions around your neck get swollen every now and again, there might be an issue with the lymph nodes in your neck. Lymph nodes form an integral part of the human immune system and highlight issues of the body. The nodes are regional in nature and the enlarged nodes in each region indicate abnormalities within that region. They aren’t visible normally and only make an appearance when they get swollen.
What Are Lymph Nodes?
Lymph nodes are very useful for the human immune system as they are capable of fighting off infections. These round or oval shaped nodes are very small and soft and are present in all parts of the body with a lymphatic chain connecting all of them just like the case with blood vessels. At their core, the lymph nodes carry immune cells known as lymphocytes with a capsule of connective tissue covering the nodes. The lymphocytes give the lymph nodes the quality to fight against harmful outside particles and microorganisms.
Lymph Nodes Locations
Lymph nodes are present in all parts of the body with their total quantity being close to 500 or 700. There are a number of regions in which lymph nodes are present, including the head and neck, the chest, the lungs, the arms and the legs, etc. All in all, there are six regions of the body in which the biggest clusters of lymph nodes are found. They include:
1. The Cervical Region
Lymph nodes in the cervical region are found around the jaw’s lower border, at the front and back of the ears and close to the neck’s bigger blood vessels. They collect lymph from vessels that drain skin of nasal cavity tissues, pharynx, face and scalp.
2. The Axillary Region
The nodes present in and around the arms, in the deeper chest tissues and close to skin surface are considered axillary lymph nodes. They collect lymph from the vessels of arms, breast and upper abdominal walls.
3. The Inguinal Region
The inguinal region is the one in which nodes are present at the front and back of the legs, the outer side of human genitalia and the lower walls of the abdomen. They collect lymph from these same regions.
4. The Pelvic Cavity
The nodes in the pelvic cavity are usually present around blood vessel paths that run within the cavity of the pelvis. They collect lymph from all those lymphatic vessels which are present in the pelvic cavity.
5. The Abdominal Cavity
The nodes present in the abdominal cavity actually occur in the form of chains around the major artery branches that run through the abdomen and the intestine.
6. The Thoracic Cavity
Nodes present in the thoracic cavity are found around the bronchi and the windpipe and in between the lungs. They collect lymph from this very region as well as the inner thorax wall.
Here is a video where you can get direct information about lymph nodes locations.
Common Problem with Lymph Nodes: Swollen Lymph Nodes
The basic function of the lymph nodes found in various regions of the body is to indicate and fight off bacteria and microorganisms. Swollen lymph nodes often indicate the presence of an infection or another issue in related region.
Whenever the lymph glands sense an infection in close proximity, they get tenderized and become swollen and facilitate the immune system in fighting the germs and bacteria causing the infection. Once the infection has been defeated, the swollen lymph glands return to their small size within a week or so. Following are some of the infections in which the lymph glands might swell.
- Infections that affect the throat, infections that affect the teeth, the common cold and tonsillitis cause neck lymph glands to become enlarged.
- Lymph glands placed at the back of your head often get swollen in case of an infection that affects the scalp skin.
- The armpit lymph glands get swollen in response to infections that affect the skin of the arm.
- The groin lymph glands often swell when an infection affects the genitals or one of the legs. A nappy rash may cause a similar response.
- Lymph glands all around the body might swell in response to viral infections like chickenpox or flu. Neck, groin and armpit lymph glands all swell in such cases.
There is a possibility that a few cells from a cancer break away and then metastasize in the lymph glands close by through lymph channels. In such cases, the cancer cells find a breeding ground in theses lymph glands which results in swollen glands. For example:
- Lymph glands present in the armpit may swell in case of breast cancer.
- Cancer cells from a throat cancer may metastasize in neck lymph glands.
- The lymph glands found in the abdomen and chest might get swollen as cancer cells from a lung or stomach cancer reaches them.
- Cancer cells from a skin cancer usually spread to nearby lymph glands of the skin of the particular region.
- Leukemia, Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are cancers of lymphatic systems and they can also result in swelling of lymph glands.
But generally, the swelling of lymph glands caused by infections develops quickly as compared to the swelling caused by lymphomas and cancers.
Inflammatory diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can also cause swelling of lymph nodes.
4. Other Causes
There can be other causes of swollen lymph glands as well like sarcoidosis, arthritis, GLS (Genetic Lipid Storage) disease, HIV, TB (Tuberculosis) and Kawasaki disease. However, the possibility of swelling of lymph glands as a result of these conditions is highly rare.
Treatments for Swollen Lymph Nodes
In order to treat the swelling of lymph glands, the fundamental cause requires treatment. Once the cause gets treated, the lymph gland would return to its normal size. Still, you should visit your doctor quickly if:
- Your lymph nodes start swelling without any apparent cause.
- The swelling doesn’t stop for more than two weeks.
- The swollen lymph glands become hard.
- The swelling prevails along with weight loss, fever, sore throat or difficulty in breathing.