Lymphadenopathy (Enlarged Lymph Nodes) Causes, Definition, Types

Lymphadenopathy (Enlarged Lymph Nodes) Causes, Definition, Types

Learn all about lymphadenopathy (enlarged lymph nodes) its causes and types of it. Adenopathy refers to lymph nodes that become enlarged or swollen, and this can occur as a result of cancer, while lymphadenopathy also stands for the abnormal enlargement of lymph nodes.

Lymph nodes are regional, and each group of them corresponds to a particular region of the body and reflects abnormalities in that region. Common areas where swollen lymph nodes are more prominent and therefore more readily noticeable are behind the ear, in the neck, the groin, under the chin and in the armpits.

Since lymphadenopathy can be associated with a wide range of disorders spanning relatively benign medical problems such as streptococcal pharyngitis to life-threatening diseases such as malignancies, the discovery of enlarged nodes represents an important physical finding that demands a systematic evaluation.

An annual incidence of 0.6-0.7% has been estimated for the general population. Unexplained lymphadenopathies are not common (less than 1% of the general population). 75% of all lymphadenopathies are localized and often caused by a specific pathology in the area of drainage. 25% of lymphadenopathies are generalized and are often a sign of a significant underlying disease. A diagnosis of lymphoma, malignancy, HIV infection or tuberculosis should not be missed. In the UK, HIV and tuberculosis (TB) remain conditions of continuing concern in patients presenting with generalized lymphadenopathy.

Treating adenopathy tends to be focused on treating underlying causal factors. Curing this, when possible, may help glands shrink back to normal size. Sometimes the condition resolves on its own when certain viruses are involved, such Epstein-Barr or varicella. When no clear cause is immediately identifiable for the condition, some doctors approach this by taking a biopsy of an affected node. This may be useful to diagnose diseases like lymphoma, which can result in the condition.

Lymphadenopathy (Enlarged Lymph Nodes) Causes, Definition, Types

What is lymphadenopathy or Adenopathy?

Lymphadenopathy or Adenopathy is disease of the lymph nodes, in which they are abnormal in size, number, or consistency. Lymphadenopathy of an inflammatory type (the most common type) is lymphadenitis, producing swollen or enlarged lymph nodes. Adenopathy, also referred to as lymphadenopathy, is the enlargement of lymph nodes anywhere in your body. Lymph nodes are a part of your immune system and are where immune cells mature to fight infection and unfamiliar antigenic substances. Inflamed lymph nodes often indicate an infection or illness affecting nearby tissues. The most common lymph nodes that you might notice as enlarged are located in the groin, neck, armpit, under the jaw, and behind the ears. An enlarged lymph node can be painless or tender and can be firm or soft, fixed or freely moveable, depending on the cause of the enlargement.

Lymphadenopathy Definition

The term comes from the word lymph and a combination of the Greek words adenas (“gland”) and patheia (“act of suffering” or “disease”). So the term lymphadenopathy means swelling of the lymph nodes. Lymphadenopathy is palpable enlargement of lymph nodes.

Enlarged Lymph Nodes Causes

Lymphadenopathy can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, malignancy or an autoimmune disease
The most common causes of swollen glands include:

  • Bacterial infection such as strep throat or tonsillitis
  • Mouth sores or tooth infection
  • Viral infection such as mononucleosis
  • Skin infection
  • Ear infection
  • Sexually transmitted disease
  • Cancers such as leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and breast cancer
  • Immune system disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and HIV infection
  • Side effect from a vaccine or from certain medications
  • Storage diseases such as Gaucher’s disease and Niemann-Pick disease

Lymphadenopathy Types

Lymphadenopathy can have additional descriptors, depending on where in the body the lymph nodes are swollen. Some types of lymphadenopathy are cervical, mediastinal, bilateral hilar and retroperitoneal lymphadenopathy.

Cervical Lymphadenopathy

Cervical lymph node swelling refers to enlarged lymph nodes in the neck region. This is a very common feature of viral infections. Less commonly, swollen lymph nodes in the neck can be a sign of malignancy. Children with Hodgkin disease present with cervical adenopathy in 80-90 percent of cases as opposed to 40 percent of those with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Hilar Lymphadenopathy

Bilateral hilar lymphadenopathy is a bilateral enlargement of the lymph nodes of pulmonary hila. It is a radiographic term that describes the enlargement of mediastinal lymph nodes and is most commonly identified by a chest x-ray.

Mediastinal Lymphadenopathy

Mediastinal lymph node enlargement can occur from a wide range of pathologies. It may occur on its own in association with other lung pathology. Mediastinal lymphadenopathy associated with interstitial lung disease can be a frequent feature although its presence has limited value in the differential diagnosis. In certain forms of interstitial lung disease, the extent of lymph node enlargement may correlate to disease activity or progression of fibrosis. While many nodes may be larger than 10mm it is uncommon to have nodes greater than 15mm.

Retroperitoneal Lymphadenopathy

Retroperitoneal adenopathy refers to swelling or disease in the lymph nodes behind the peritoneum. This structure covers most of the abdominal organs and may be used as an anatomical point of reference when discussing problems in the abdomen.

Supraclavicular Lymphadenopathy

The supraclavicular lymph nodes are a paired group of lymph nodes located on either side in the hollow of clavicle close to where sternum joins it. It is the final common pathway of the lymphatic system as it joins the central venous system. They oversee transport of the lymph from the thoracic cavity and abdomen.

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