Are Swollen Glands Serious?

swollen glands

When you’re feeling pain or swelling in the upper neck area, you just might have a bacterial or viral infection. Although swollen glands (more appropriately called swollen lymph nodes) may indicate something as minor as a cold, it can also signify something as serious as lymphoma. But before you start worrying, have your doctor examine you and run some tests.

What are Glands or Lymph Nodes?

While lymph nodes are not actually glands, the term “swollen glands” refers to lymph nodes that are swollen. You’ll find hundreds of lymph nodes throughout the the body including the neck, armpits, abdomen, and groin. Lymph nodes are masses of tissue that help prevent infection and fluid build-up in tissues. They also help regulate blood pressure and blood volume while building the immune system response. Lymph nodes filter out harmful pathogens such as bacteria and viruses from lymph, which is fluid containing white blood cells. They also help get rid of of cellular waste, dead cells, and cancerous cells from the body.

What Causes Swollen Glands (Lymph Nodes)?

  • Minor causes of swollen lymph nodes include things like injuries, infection, sore throat, colds, insect bites, or cuts. These conditions will cause swelling usually only for a few days to two weeks.
  • Major causes of swollen lymph nodes include things like tumors, cancer, lymphoma, viral illnesses, and serious diseases including mononucleosis, HIV, and bacterial infections. Swelling caused by more serious conditions may persist well from weeks to months.

What Kinds of Tests are Run for Swollen Glands (Lymph Nodes)?

Your doctor may order two kinds of tests for swollen lymph nodes. The most common test is a blood test for signs of disease or other medical conditions that may be causing the swelling. If needed, the doctor can also order a biopsy of your lymph node. This procedure removes a small amount of lymph node tissue which will be examined under a microscope or cultured to search for infections or more serious conditions like cancer or HIV.

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