Stress and enlarged lymph nodes

Your lymph nodes are a pair of bean-sized glands that sit under your collarbone. They are located just above your neck. They are located in the same area as your thyroid gland, but they are not connected to it.

While your thyroid gland controls your metabolism, your lymph nodes help your immune system fight off infection.

An enlarged lymph node is known as a lymphadenopathy. It can be caused by inflammation from your immune system, which is why it is sometimes referred to as “lymphoma.”

When the immune system is overactive, it can lead to swelling and tenderness in your lymph nodes. If you experience this symptom along with other symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.

Common causes

The following are some of the most common causes of enlarged lymph nodes.

  • Infection. You may develop swollen lymph nodes after an infection. This can be caused by a bacterial infection or a fungal infection.
  • Inflammation. Inflammation in your lymph nodes can be caused by an infection or autoimmune disease.
  • Cancer. Cancer can cause lymph nodes to swell.
  • Thyroid disease. Some thyroid disorders can cause enlarged lymph nodes. Thyroid nodules can also cause your lymph nodes to swell.

When to see your doctor?

Lymph nodes can be a symptom of many conditions. If you experience swollen lymph nodes along with other symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

  • Swelling in your neck
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Pain in your neck or shoulders
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Body aches and pains
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Unexplained weight gain

Diagnosing the cause

Your doctor may order a physical exam to diagnose the cause of your enlarged lymph nodes. During the exam, your doctor will look for signs of infection or inflammation. They may also want to know if they are enlarged due to cancer.

Your doctor may also order tests to rule out other conditions. These tests may include blood tests, a thyroid hormone test, or a lung function test.

Tests may also include:

  • A thyroid function test to check for hypothyroidism
  • Blood tests to check for anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • A blood test to check for a viral infection
  • A blood test to check for an infection caused by a fungus
  • A chest X-ray to check for lung or other abnormalities
  • An ultrasound to check for thyroid nodules and other abnormalities in your neck

If you are experiencing an enlarged lymph node due to an autoimmune disease, your doctor may order other tests to rule out other conditions. These tests may include:

  • A blood test to check for antibodies
  • A thyroid function test to check for hypothyroid disease
  • A urine test for a protein that is typically found in autoimmune thyroid conditions
  • An imaging test, such as an ultrasound or CT scan, to check for thyroid nodules

Treating enlarged lymph nodes

Your treatment plan will depend on the cause of your enlarged lymph nodes. If you have an autoimmune disease, your treatment plan will also depend on the disease.

If you are experiencing an enlarged lymph node due to an infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.

If you are experiencing an enlarged lymph node due to cancer, your treatment plan will also depend on the type of cancer.

If you are having trouble losing weight, your doctor may recommend eating a low-calorie diet and working with your doctor to develop a weight loss plan.

Other treatments for enlarged lymph nodes include:

  • Steroids to reduce inflammation
  • Antibiotics to treat any infections
  • Antifungal medication
  • Thyroid hormone replacement therapy
  • Medications to treat pain, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Outcome

If your enlarged lymph nodes are caused by an infection, they usually go away on their own within a few weeks.

If your enlarged lymph nodes are caused by an autoimmune disease, your doctor may prescribe a thyroid hormone replacement therapy. This is usually a combination of levothyroxine (Levothroid) and liothyronine (Synthroid).

If you have cancer, your treatment plan will depend on the type of cancer. It may include:

  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Bone marrow transplant

In some cases, your doctor may recommend a combination of the above treatments.

Possible complications

Swollen lymph nodes can be a symptom that is caused by many conditions. Sometimes, swollen lymph nodes are a sign that your body is fighting an infection.

If you have swollen lymph nodes, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help you determine the cause and recommend the appropriate treatment.

Your doctor will also check to make sure you don’t have other conditions that may be causing your swollen lymph nodes.

Complications of enlarged lymph nodes include:

  • An enlarged lymph node can become cancerous. This includes lymphoma and other types of cancer.
  • Some enlarged lymph nodes can become infected.
  • When an enlarged lymph node becomes infected, it can become very painful.
  • If the infection is to the lymph nodes, it may spread to other parts of your body.
  • In some cases, the infection can spread to other parts of your body, including your brain.

Recovery

If you have swollen lymph nodes, make an appointment with your doctor. They can examine your lymph nodes and recommend a treatment plan for you.

Your doctor may also want to schedule regular follow-up appointments to check for any changes in your condition.

Outpatient treatment

If your swollen lymph nodes are caused by an infection, your doctor may recommend taking antibiotics to treat the infection. This will usually clear up within a few weeks.

If you have swollen lymph nodes due to an autoimmune disease, your doctor may prescribe a thyroid hormone replacement therapy. This is usually a combination of levothyroxine (Levothroid) and liothyronine (Synthroid).

The takeaway

Swollen lymph nodes can be caused by various conditions.

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