Adenopathy: What it is, symptoms and treatment

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Lymphadenopathies are caused by a number of diseases, or by some medications. Most of the time they are benign.

Although sometimes they may indicate a serious pathology, they are usually bacterial or viral in origin and resolve on their own or with antimicrobial treatment.

Since their mere mention could evoke a malignant process in the making and set off alarm bells, this article discusses how serious they really are and what treatments are used to combat them.

What is adenopathy?

Adenopathy, also known as lymphadenopathy, is a condition of the lymph nodes. This term is generally used as a synonym for an inflammation or enlargement of the lymph nodes.

Lymph nodes are structures of the lymphatic system that play a protective role by fighting infection in the body. Their important function includes filtering and trapping pathogens before they affect other parts of the body.

Acting as a first-line barrier, lymph nodes become inflamed when infectious cells and microorganisms are very abundant.

Types of adenopathy

In patients under 30 years of age, adenopathy occurs for benign causes in 70% of cases.

This hypertrophy in the lymph nodes is classified into several types, such as:

  • Localized adenopathy. Depending on the area in which it is located, it can be lingual, cervical, axillary, mediastinal, among others. In the case of supraclavicular localized adenopathy, in patients older than 40 years 90% are malignant
  • Generalized adenopathy. This is a generalized infection throughout the body, for example the flu.
  • Persistent generalized adenopathy. This is when swollen lymph nodes are present in the body for a long time, although without apparent cause.

Symptoms of lymphadenopathy

The lymphatic system is a network of lymph nodes, blood vessels, and organs. Many of the lymph nodes are located in the head, and in the neck, in the cervical and supraclavicular, so these areas are usually the most affected, however, they can also appear in the armpits and groins.

These nodes usually measure from half a centimeter to a centimeter in diameter, while those appearing in the groin can reach two centimeters in normal situation.

Swollen lymph nodes are an unmistakable sign that something is wrong in the body. Its symptoms are these:

  • Tenderness and pain in the nodes.
  • Swollen and enlarged lymph nodes.
  • Sore throat.
  • Fever.
  • Joint pain
  • Runny nose
  • Night sweats
  • Appears in various areas of the body and with rash, in the presence of serious diseases.

Diagnosis of adenopathy

In order to make the diagnosis of adenopathy, an anamnesis is carried out first, i.e. a set of data is obtained for the patient’s medical history, which will help to make the diagnosis.

The anamnesis includes information such as the patient’s age, sex, personal history such as contact with animals, sexual relations, diet, drug addiction, etc. In addition, family history and medical history, such as recent surgeries, are inquired.

After obtaining this information, the physician proceeds to perform a physical examination in which he examines all the regions in which there are lymph nodes. He also relies on some diagnostic tests, such as:

  • Hemograms
  • Computerized tomographies
  • Ultrasounds
  • MRI and scintigraphy
  • Lymph node biopsies
  • Blood tests

what are the causes of adenopathy?

The most common cause of adenopathy is a viral or bacterial infection. The most common causes are listed below:

  • Infections. The most frequent are infections of the upper respiratory tract such as flu or cold, those of the ears, teeth and gums; those affecting the skin near the lymph node such as cellulitis and mononucleosis. In these cases, the nodes that become inflamed are those in the neck. An infection from a wound may cause adenopathy in the axilla, if in the upper extremity, or in the groin, if in the legs
  • Less common infections. Such as tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis, cat scratch disease, herpes simplex, syphilis, or HIV infection
  • Inflammatory disorder. In the presence of immune system disorders such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, lymphadenopathy may occur in various areas of the body.
  • Cancer. Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia and other types of tumors that have spread in the body give rise to generalized lymphadenopathy.
  • Medications. Certain medications, such as those indicated for malaria, typhoid vaccine or some anticonvulsants, can cause lymph nodes to swell.

Treatment for adenopathy

There is really no specific treatment for adenopathy. Rather, treatment begins once the cause of the problem is identified. This requires the intervention of a specialist in internal medicine or general surgery, although an endocrinologist and other physicians may also be involved in its diagnosis and treatment.

Unless it is evident that the cause of the infection is bacterial, antibiotics should not be applied. Corticosteroids are also not recommended, as they may hinder the diagnosis of hematologic diseases or may even activate an underlying infection

In the presence of immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, treatment is aimed at combating the disease in question.

Only in extreme cases where the lymph node suppurates can surgical drainage be used.

If there are no symptoms accompanying the adenopathy, if they appear in several areas of the body, the swollen nodes exceed two centimeters or do not subside within two or three weeks, then it is necessary to see a doctor.


In summary, lymphadenopathies appear frequently in healthy people. Their appearance can cause panic, but the most frequent causes are processes of viral or bacterial origin, and they resolve spontaneously or with antimicrobial treatment.

German Fuertes Otero
German Fuertes Otero
CEO at M.D. from Stanford Medicine: Stanford, California, US, M.Sc. from University of Cambridge: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, UK and University of Oxford: Oxford, Oxfordshire, UK. PhD at Harvard University Harvard Catalyst: Cambridge, MA, US.

Aunque pueda contener afirmaciones, datos o apuntes procedentes de instituciones o profesionales sanitarios y la información contenida en PharmaSalud esté redactada por profesionales en medicina, recomendamos al lector que cualquier duda relacionada con la salud sea consultada con un profesional del ámbito sanitario.

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