|Other names: Adenopathy, swollen lymph nodes, lymphadenitis|
|A CT scan of axillary lymphadenopathy in a 57-year-old man with multiple myeloma.|
|Specialty||Infectious disease, oncology|
|Symptoms||Enlargement of lymph nodes|
|Causes||Infections, autoimmune diseases, cancers, lymphoproliferative disorders, unkown|
|Treatment||Based on underlying cause|
Lymphadenopathy, also known as adenopathy, is the enlargement of lymph nodes. This may occur in one part of the body or diffusely. If the lymph node is tender there is a greater likelihood of an infectious cause and a lower likelihood of cancer. Enlargement for more than 3 or 4 weeks is more concerning.
Causes may include infections, autoimmune diseases, cancers, reactions to medications, and lymphoproliferative disorders. Infections may be bacterial, fungal, viral, spirochetal, or protozoal. Autoimmune diseases may include amyloidosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. Cancers may include lymphoma, leukemia, and metastasis. They cause may also remain unknown. Generally in adults lymph nodes are smaller than 1 cm. Diagnosis may be supported by a lymph node biopsy.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Most cases are non serious, especially in children. Lymphadenopathy is relatively common. Males and females are affected equally frequently. Children are more commonly affected than adults.
Lymphadenopathy of an inflammatory type (the most common type) is also known as "lymphadenitis". The distinction between lymphadenopathy and lymphadenitis is rarely made and the words are usually treated as synonymous. Inflammation of the lymphatic vessels is known as lymphangitis. Infectious lymphadenitis due to tuberculosis affecting lymph nodes in the neck may be called a scrofula.
Lymph node enlargement is recognized as a common sign of infectious, autoimmune, or malignant disease. Examples may include:
- Reactive: acute infection (e.g., bacterial, or viral), or chronic infections (tuberculous lymphadenitis, cat-scratch disease).
- The most distinctive sign of bubonic plague is extreme swelling of one or more lymph nodes that bulge out of the skin as "buboes." The buboes often become necrotic and may even rupture.
- Infectious mononucleosis is an acute viral infection usually caused by Epstein-Barr virus and may be characterized by a marked enlargement of the cervical lymph nodes.
- It is also a sign of cutaneous anthrax and Human African trypanosomiasis
- Toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease, gives a generalized lymphadenopathy (Piringer-Kuchinka lymphadenopathy).
- Plasma cell variant of Castleman's disease - associated with HHV-8 infection and HIV infection
- Mesenteric lymphadenitis after viral systemic infection (particularly in the GALT in the appendix) can commonly present like appendicitis.
- Autoimmune: systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis may have a generalized lymphadenopathy.
- Immunocompromised: AIDS. Generalized lymphadenopathy is an early sign of infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). "Lymphadenopathy syndrome" has been used to describe the first symptomatic stage of HIV progression, preceding a diagnosis of AIDS.
- Bites from certain venomous snakes such as the pit viper
- Unknown: Kikuchi disease, progressive transformation of germinal centers, sarcoidosis, hyaline-vascular variant of Castleman's disease, Rosai-Dorfman disease, Kawasaki disease, Kimura disease
Benign (reactive) lymphadenopathy
Benign lymphadenopathy is a common biopsy finding, and may often be confused with malignant lymphoma. It may be separated into major morphologic patterns, each with its own differential diagnosis with certain types of lymphoma. Most cases of reactive follicular hyperplasia are easy to diagnose, but some cases may be confused with follicular lymphoma. There are seven distinct patterns of benign lymphadenopathy:
- Follicular hyperplasia: This is the most common type of reactive lymphadenopathy.
- Paracortical hyperplasia/Interfollicular hyperplasia: It is seen in viral infections, skin diseases, and nonspecific reactions.
- Sinus histiocytosis: It is seen in lymph nodes draining limbs, inflammatory lesions, and malignancies.
- Nodal extensive necrosis
- Nodal granulomatous inflammation
- Nodal extensive fibrosis (Connective tissue framework)
- Nodal deposition of interstitial substance
These morphological patterns are never pure. Thus, reactive follicular hyperplasia can have a component of paracortical hyperplasia. However, this distinction is important for the differential diagnosis of the cause.
On ultrasound, B-mode imaging depicts lymph node morphology, whilst power Doppler can assess the vascular pattern. B-mode imaging features that can distinguish metastasis and lymphoma include size, shape, calcification, loss of hilar architecture, as well as intranodal necrosis. Soft tissue edema and nodal matting on B-mode imaging suggests tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis or previous radiation therapy. Serial monitoring of nodal size and vascularity are useful in assessing treatment response.
Fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) has sensitivity and specificity percentages of 81% and 100%, respectively, in the histopathology of malignant cervical lymphadenopathy. PET-CT has proven to be helpful in identifying occult primary carcinomas of the head and neck, especially when applied as a guiding tool prior to panendoscopy, and may induce treatment related clinical decisions in up to 60% of cases.
Lymphadenopathy may be classified by:
- Size, where lymphadenopathy in adults is often defined as a short axis of one or more lymph nodes is greater than 10mm.
- By extent:
- Localized lymphadenopathy: due to localized spot of infection e.g., an infected spot on the scalp will cause lymph nodes in the neck on that same side to swell up
- Generalized lymphadenopathy: due to a systemic infection of the body e.g., influenza or secondary syphilis
- Persistent generalized lymphadenopathy (PGL): persisting for a long time, possibly without an apparent cause
- By localization:
- Dermatopathic lymphadenopathy: lymphadenopathy associated with skin disease.
- By malignancy: Benign lymphadenopathy is distinguished from malignant types which mainly refer to lymphomas or lymph node metastasis.
- By size, where lymphadenopathy in adults is often defined as a short axis of one or more lymph nodes is greater than 10mm. However, there is regional variation as detailed in this table:
|Inguinal||10 – 20 mm|
|Pelvis||10 mm for ovoid lymph nodes, 8 mm for rounded|
|Generally (non-retropharyngeal)||10 mm|
|Jugulodigastric lymph nodes||11mm or 15 mm|
|Mediastinum, generally||10 mm|
|Superior mediastinum and high paratracheal||7mm|
|Low paratracheal and subcarinal||11 mm|
|Retrocrural space||6 mm|
|Gastrohepatic ligament||8 mm|
|Upper paraaortic region||9 mm|
|Portacaval space||10 mm|
|Porta hepatis||7 mm|
|Lower paraaortic region||11 mm|
Lymphadenopathy of the axillary lymph nodes can be defined as solid nodes measuring more than 15 mm without fatty hilum. Axillary lymph nodes may be normal up to 30 mm if consisting largely of fat.
Lymphadenopathy of more than 1.5–2 cm increases the risk of cancer or granulomatous disease as the cause rather than only inflammation or infection. Still, an increasing size and persistence over time are more indicative of cancer.
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