What Is It, Causes, Workup, Treatment, and More
Author: Benisha Julian, MD
Illustrator: Aileen Lin
What is cervical lymphadenopathy?
Cervical lymphadenopathy refers to the swelling of lymph nodes located in the neck. Lymph nodes, situated all over the body, are part of the lymphatic system, which works to protect the body against microbes, maintain adequate fluid levels, absorb nutrients, and remove certain waste products. Lymphocytes, or white blood cells, are activated in the lymph nodes, after which they travel into the bloodstream to defend the body against microbes. When the lymph nodes accumulate excessive amounts of lymphocytes, they can increase in size and become swollen.Cervical lymphadenopathy can often be confused with cervical lymphadenitis. Although cervical lymphadenitis does usually present with cervical lymphadenopathy, cervical lymphadenitis refers to a direct infection of the cervical lymph nodes, often resulting from bacterial or viral infection. Cervical lymphadenitis can occur from Mycobacterium tuberculosis, resulting in tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis, or by other atypical mycobacteria, resulting in non-tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis. Additionally, cat scratch disease, which is caused by the bacterium Bartonella henselae, can result in cervical lymphadenitis.
What causes cervical lymphadenopathy?
Localized cervical lymphadenopathy is the result of inflammatory processes in the neck or nearby areas. This can result from a variety of conditions.
Infections of the salivary glands
Certain cancers affecting the head and neck regions
Generalized lymphadenopathy can result from a systemic disease affecting organs far away from the neck.
Autoimmune diseases may also result in cervical lymphadenopathy.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition that typically affects the joints but can also lead to the inflammation of tissues throughout the body, and the consequent swelling of lymph nodes.
There are some more rare causes of cervical lymphadenopathy.
How is cervical lymphadenopathy diagnosed?
Cervical lymphadenopathy may be a non-specific clinical sign of an underlying disease, requiring further investigations depending on additional clinical features presented by the individual. Additional information that may be useful for a physician include the duration of the lymphadenopathy, the characteristics of the lymph nodes, and involvement of lymph nodes in other body areas.
Physical examination of the neck region following a history suggestive of infection affecting the throat, ear, salivary glands, skin, or surrounding structures.
Symptom and sign review
Depending on the underlying cause, enlarged cervical lymph nodes may be painless or painful to touch, tender, firm or rubbery in consistency, and mobile or fixed to the underlying tissue.
Symptoms, such as weight loss, fever, fatigue, or night sweats, could suggest a much more serious condition such as cancer, an autoimmune disease, or other serious infections such as tuberculosis, infectious mononucleosis, AIDS, and cat scratch disease, among others.
Biopsy of affected lymph node
Fine needle aspiration
Core needle biopsy
How is cervical lymphadenopathy treated?
Treatment for cervical lymphadenopathy will vary based on the underlying cause, and will typically resolve with appropriate treatment of the underlying condition.
Infectious conditions may require a course of antimicrobial medications.
Autoimmune conditions may need anti-inflammatory medications.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is cervical lymphadenopathy serious?
Cervical lymphadenopathy on its own is not a serious condition; however, it may indicate a more serious underlying condition. In many cases, it can be a sign of a mild, benign, self-limiting condition of acute onset. However, it can also be a sign of more serious chronic conditions, such as cancer or autoimmune diseases, and should be thoroughly evaluated in order to make a sound diagnosis.
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Resources for research and reference
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