The lymph node can tell something about a person’s health. Lymph nodes are little glands that work quietly in pulling out infectious agents and unwanted materials from the lymph so they won’t circulate throughout the body. They gain little to no attention at all until they become painful and swollen. A basic understanding of the lymph nodes will give one an idea how efficient his or her immune system is in doing its job. The nodes also help doctors determine the stage of cancers and other illnesses.
What is a lymph node?
A lymph node is a small organ in the lymph or lymphatic system, an interconnected system of organs, vessels, ducts and nodes that allows the lymph to circulate all over the body. They are largely composed of lymphoid tissues, cells and white blood cells. A person has around 500 to 700 lymph nodes throughout the body, each measuring the size of a bean.
The lymph node plays a very important role in the immune system. They primarily work in filtering the lymph. The lymph is a whitish to yellowish fluid that nourishes the cells while collecting pathogens and toxins for disposal. Unwanted materials get trapped in the nodes, preventing them from being circulated back to the body. The node then refreshes the lymph by adding more lymphocytes to it, augmenting the body’s defense against infection.
Aside from filtering lymph fluid, lymph nodes are also involved in initiating autoimmune response. These bean-shaped glands contain lots of lymphocytes which produce antibodies that will destroy harmful pathogens. This causes the lymph nodes to become swollen, enlarged and even painful.
Lymph Node Locations
Lymph nodes are distributed throughout the lymphatic system appearing in singles or in groups. They are most obvious at the neck, armpit, groins and collar bone. Some are buried deeply in the body. Specific lymph nodes maintain a specific part of the body; nourishing the cells found therein while removing pathogens and debris at the same time.
These nodes maintain the areas above the shoulders and can be found in the neck, head, back of the ears and jaw. They filter the lymph coming from the nasal cavity, pharynx, face and scalp.
These nodes are the ones found in the armpits which include both deep and superficial nodes. Axillary nodes filter the lymph that is circulating in the arms, chest, breast, wall of the thorax and upper part of the abdomen.
Mediastinal nodes are nodes in the chest between the windpipe, bronchi and lungs. These nodes filter the lymph circulating within the mid section of the chest.
These nodes rest along the clavicle or collarbone and filter the lymph flowing from the collarbone and upper part of the chest.
These are nodes in the groin drain the lymph coming from the lower limbs, abdominal wall, buttock, genitals and anus.
Supratochlear nodes are those found in the arms, sitting above the elbow and drain the fluid flowing from the hands, fingers and forearms.
These are nodes in the knee that filters the fluid coming from the feet, calf and thigh.
These nodes are found in the lower part of the abdomen, near the small intestines and drain the fluid from the colon, cecum, jejunum and upper rectum.
Why does the lymph node become painful?
Lymph nodes become painful when the body is trying to fight some kind of infection. Pain also occurs due to an underlying serious illness or disease. Painful nodes are usually swollen or enlarged and tender to the touch. Several discomforts, such as fever, weight loss and fatigue, may also be experienced depending on the cause of the node swelling. Swollen lymph nodes should return to their normal sizes in two weeks after a minor infection. However, there are some cases when swollen and painful lymph nodes need to be checked by the doctor. This is when:
- They become hardened and fixed
- They continue to grow
- There is some redness or pinkish skin discoloration above the swollen lymph node
- Accompanied by other discomforting symptoms such as breathing difficulties, persistent fever, night sweats and fatigue
Lymph Node Swelling and Infections that may Occur
A swollen lymph node can be bothersome and cause some concern. However, it is usually a sign that the immune system is doing its job in fighting infection, such as:
- Common colds
- Throat infection
- Skin infections
- Wounds and lacerations
- Chicken pox
Swelling of the lymph nodes could sometimes point to more serious illnesses like:
- MRSA infection (Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus)
- Breast cancer
- NHLs (Non-Hodgkin Lymphomas)
There are several ways to diagnose swollen lymph nodes. Nodes located near the skin surface are easily diagnosed by touching or feeling them. Deeper nodes are checked through imaging tests like CT scan. If cancer is suspected, a lymph node is removed and biopsy is done to determine the type and stage of cancer.
Lymph Node Locations in Body (Pictures)
Lymph Nodes in Neck and Head
Lymph Nodes in Armpit
Lymph Nodes in Groin
Lymph Nodes locations in body – Diagram