Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer For Medicare For Providers For Brokers For Employers Español For Individuals & Families: For Individuals & Families Medical Dental Other Supplemental Explore coverage through work How to Buy Health Insurance Types of Dental Insurance Open Enrollment vs. Special Enrollment See all topics Shop for Medicare plans Member Guide Find a Doctor Log in to myCigna
Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Swollen Lymph Nodes

Swollen Lymph Nodes

Overview

What are lymph nodes?

Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped glands throughout the body. They are part of the lymph system, which carries fluid (lymph fluid), nutrients, and waste material between the body tissues and the bloodstream.

The lymph system is an important part of the immune system, the body's defense system against disease. The lymph nodes filter lymph fluid as it flows through them, trapping bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances, which are then destroyed by special white blood cells called lymphocytes.

Lymph nodes may be found singly or in groups. And they may be as small as the head of a pin or as large as an olive. Groups of lymph nodes can be felt in the neck, groin, and underarms. Lymph nodes generally are not tender or painful. Most lymph nodes in the body cannot be felt.

What causes swollen lymph nodes?

Lymph nodes often swell in one location when a problem such as an injury, infection, or tumor develops in or near the lymph node. Which lymph nodes are swollen can help identify the problem.

  • The glands on either side of the neck, under the jaw, or behind the ears commonly swell when you have a cold or sore throat. Glands can also swell following an injury, such as a cut or bite, near the gland or when a tumor or infection occurs in the mouth, head, or neck.
  • Glands in the armpit (axillary lymph nodes) may swell from an injury or infection to the arm or hand. A rare cause of axillary swelling may be breast cancer or lymphoma.
  • The lymph nodes in the groin (femoral or inguinal lymph nodes) may swell from an injury or infection in the foot, leg, groin, or genitals. In rare cases, testicular cancer, lymphoma, or melanoma may cause a lump in this area.
  • Glands above the collarbone (supraclavicular lymph nodes) may swell from an infection or tumor in the areas of the lungs, breasts, neck, or abdomen.

Common sites for swollen lymph nodes include the neck, groin, and underarms.

When lymph nodes swell in two or more areas of the body, it is called generalized lymphadenopathy. This may be caused by:

  • A viral illness, such as measles, rubella, chickenpox (varicella), or mumps.
  • Mononucleosis (Epstein-Barr virus), which results in fever, sore throat, and fatigue, or cytomegalovirus (CMV), a viral infection that causes symptoms similar to those of mononucleosis.
  • A bacterial illness, such as strep throat (caused by the streptococcus bacterium) or Lyme disease (a bacterial infection spread by certain types of ticks).
  • Side effects of phenytoin (Dilantin), a medicine used to prevent seizures.
  • Side effects of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination.
  • Cancer, such as leukemia, Hodgkin disease, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which develops after a person contracts HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). This virus attacks the immune system, making it difficult for the body to fight off infection and some disease.
  • Syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection.

How are swollen lymph nodes treated?

Treatment for swollen glands focuses on treating the cause. For example, a bacterial infection may be treated with antibiotics, while a viral infection often goes away on its own. If cancer is suspected, a biopsy may be done to confirm the diagnosis.

Any swollen lymph nodes that don't go away or return to normal size within about a month should be checked by your doctor.

How long will lymph nodes remain swollen?

Lymph nodes may remain swollen or firm long after an initial infection is gone. This is especially true in children, whose glands may decrease in size while remaining firm and visible for many weeks.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Related Links

Mononucleosis (Mono) Swelling Strep Throat Tonsillitis Swollen Glands, Hernias, and Other Lumps Under the Skin

<cipublic-spinner variant="large"><span>Loading…</span></cipublic-spinner>

Page Footer

I want to...

Get an ID card File a claim View my claims and EOBs Check coverage under my plan See prescription drug list Find an in-network doctor, dentist, or facility Find a form Find 1095-B tax form information View the Cigna Glossary Contact Cigna

Audiences

Individuals and Families Medicare Employers Brokers Providers

Secure Member Sites

myCigna member portal Health Care Provider portal Cigna for Employers Client Resource Portal Cigna for Brokers

Cigna Company Information

About Cigna Company Profile Careers Newsroom Investors Suppliers Third Party Administrators International Evernorth

 Cigna. All rights reserved.

Privacy Legal Product Disclosures Cigna Company Names Customer Rights Accessibility Non-Discrimination Notice [PDF] Language Assistance [PDF] Report Fraud Sitemap

Disclaimer

Individual and family medical and dental insurance plans are insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (CHLIC), Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Illinois, Inc., and Cigna HealthCare of North Carolina, Inc. Group health insurance and health benefit plans are insured or administered by CHLIC, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CGLIC), or their affiliates (see a listing of the legal entities  that insure or administer group HMO, dental HMO, and other products or services in your state). Accidental Injury, Critical Illness, and Hospital Care plans or insurance policies are distributed exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, are administered by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, and are insured by either (i) Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (Bloomfield, CT); (ii) Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) (Philadelphia, PA); or (iii) New York Life Group Insurance Company of NY (“NYLGICNY”) (New York, NY), formerly known as Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. The Cigna name, logo, and other Cigna marks are owned by Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. LINA and NYLGICNY are not affiliates of Cigna.

All insurance policies and group benefit plans contain exclusions and limitations. For availability, costs and complete details of coverage, contact a licensed agent or Cigna sales representative. This website is not intended for residents of New Mexico.

Selecting these links will take you away from Cigna.com to another website, which may be a non-Cigna website. Cigna may not control the content or links of non-Cigna websites. Details