How Do I Know If My Swollen Lymph Nodes Point To Something Serious Or Just A Routine Infection?

Dr. Thomas Weida answers the question: 'Are My Swollen Lymph Nodes Dangerous?'

ByThomas Weida, M.D., Professor, Family and Community Medicine, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
December 29, 2008, 8:58 AM

— -- Question: How do I know if my swollen lymph nodes point to something serious or just a routine infection?

Answer: How to tell whether your lymph node that is swollen is a good lymph node or a bad lymph node -- two major ways to find out. One, is where they are located and how they feel. Where they are located, oftentimes with sore throats, you'll get some lymph node enlargement here in the front, what we call the anterior area of your neck. Occasionally you'll get a few in the back, particularly with mono, but the ones in the back if you get large lymph nodes in the back, they certainly are concerning.

The lymph nodes location most commonly like I said is in the neck, or sometimes in the groin. Now, what about how they feel? A normal lymph node that's reacting to just an infection is small, it's well-defined and a little rubbery, and usually moves.

The lymph nodes that you got to worry about, however ,are going to be the ones that are matted, that are large, more than say maybe a half-inch around and they don't move very well. Also, these lymph nodes will be in areas that you don't traditionally see lymph nodes, such as in the elbow area, the knee area, in the back of the neck as I mentioned before. So those are the ones that you want to be concerned about. Also, you can find lymph nodes in the front of the collar bone area and those too are concerning lymph nodes that you certainly want to have your physician check.

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