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Lymphadenitis is the inflammation of a lymph node. It is often a complication of a bacterial infection of a wound, although it can also be caused by viruses or other disease agents. Lymphadenitis may be either generalized, involving a number of lymph nodes; or limited to a few nodes in the area of a localized infection. Lymphadenitis is sometimes accompanied by lymphangitis, which is the inflammation of the lymphatic vessels that connect the lymph nodes.


Lymphadenitis is marked by swollen lymph nodes that are painful, in most cases, when the doctor touches them. If the lymphadenitis is related to an infected wound, the skin over the nodes may be red and warm to the touch. If the lymphatic vessels are also infected, there will be red streaks extending from the wound in the direction of the lymph nodes. In most cases, the infectious organisms are hemolytic Streptococci or Staphylococci. Hemolytic means that the bacteria produce a toxin that destroys red blood cells.
The extensive network of lymphatic vessels throughout the body and their relation to the lymph nodes helps to explain why bacterial infection of the nodes can spread rapidly to or from other parts of the body. Lymphadenitis in children often occurs in the neck area because these lymph nodes are close to the ears and throat, which are frequent locations of bacterial infections in children.

Causes and symptoms

Streptococcal and staphylococcal bacteria are the most common causes of lymphadenitis, although viruses, protozoa, rickettsiae, fungi, and the tuberculosis bacillus can also infect the lymph nodes. Diseases or disorders that involve lymph nodes in specific areas of the body include rabbit fever (tularemia), catscratch disease, lymphogranuloma venereum, chancroid, genital herpes, infected acne, dental abscesses, and bubonic plague. In children, tonsillitis or bacterial sore throats are the most common causes of lymphadenitis in the neck area. Diseases that involve lymph nodes throughout the body include mononucleosis, cytomegalovirus infection, toxoplasmosis, and brucellosis.
The early symptoms of lymphadenitis are swelling of the nodes caused by a buildup of tissue fluid and an increased number of white blood cells resulting from the body's response to the infection. Further developments include fever, often as high as 101-102 °F (38-39 °C) together with chills, loss of appetite, heavy perspiration, a rapid pulse, and general weakness.


Physical examination

The diagnosis of lymphadenitis is usually based on a combination of the patient's history, the external symptoms, and laboratory cultures. The doctor will press (palpate) the affected lymph nodes to see if they are sore or tender. Swollen nodes without soreness are often caused by cat-scratch disease. In children, the doctor will need to rule out mumps, tumors in the neck region, and congenital cysts that resemble swollen lymph nodes.
Although lymphadenitis is usually diagnosed in lymph nodes in the neck, arms, or legs, it can also occur in lymph nodes in the chest or abdomen. If the patient has acutely swollen lymph nodes in the groin, the doctor will need to rule out a hernia in the groin that has failed to reduce (incarcerated inguinal hernia). Hernias occur in 1% of the general population; 85% of patients with hernias are male.

Laboratory tests

The most significant tests are a white blood cell count (WBC) and a blood culture to identify the organism. A high proportion of immature white blood cells indicates a bacterial infection. Blood cultures may be positive, most often for a species of staphylococcus or streptococcus. In some cases, the doctor may order a biopsy of the lymph node.



The medications given for lymphadenitis vary according to the bacterium or virus that is causing it. If the patient also has lymphangitis, he or she will be treated with antibiotics, usually penicillin G (Pfizerpen, Pentids), nafcillin (Nafcil, Unipen), or cephalosporins. Erythromycin (Eryc, E-Mycin, Erythrocin) is given to patients who are allergic to penicillin.

Supportive care

Supportive care of lymphadenitis includes resting the affected limb and treating the area with hot moist compresses.

Key terms

Hemolytic — Able to break down or dissolve red blood cells. The bacteria that cause lymphadenitis are hemolytic.
Hernia — The bulging of a part of the intestine or other organ through its surrounding wall of tissue. Most hernias are in the abdominal cavity. An inguinal hernia is located in the groin area.
Lymph nodes — The glandlike masses of tissue in the lymphatic system that contain lymphocytes. The lymph nodes also filter lymph, which is a clear yellowish tissue fluid that carries lymphocytes and fats throughout the body.
Lymphangitis — Inflammation of the lymphatic vessels. It often occurs together with lymphadenitis.
Septicemia — The presence of bacteria and their toxins in the bloodstream. Septicemia is sometimes called blood poisoning.
Staphylococcus — Any of several species of spherical bacteria that occur in groups of four or irregular clusters. Staphylococci frequently cause skin infections.
Streptococcus — Any of several species of bacteria that are spherical in shape and form pairs or chains. Streptococci cause scarlet fever, tonsillitis, and pneumonia, and are often involved in lymphadenitis.


Cellulitis associated with lymphadenitis should not be treated surgically because of the risk of spreading the infection. Pus is drained only if there is an abscess and usually after the patient has been started on antibiotic treatment. In some cases, a biopsy of an inflamed lymph node is necessary if no diagnosis has been made and no response to treatment has occurred.


The prognosis for recovery is good if the patient is treated promptly with antibiotics. In most cases, the infection can be brought under control in three or four days. Patients with untreated lymphadenitis may develop blood poisoning (septicemia), which is sometimes fatal.


Prevention of lymphadenitis depends on prompt treatment of bacterial and viral infections.



McPhee, Stephen, et al., editors. "Blood Vessels & Lymphatics." In Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, 1998. 37th ed. Stamford: Appleton & Lange, 1997.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


inflammation of one or more lymph nodes, usually caused by a primary focus of infection elsewhere in the body.
cervical lymphadenitis cervical adenitis.
cervical lymphadenitis, tuberculous tuberculosis of the cervical lymph nodes, formerly called scrofula. Called also tuberculous cervical adenitis.
tuberculous lymphadenitis tuberculosis of lymph nodes, usually either cervical (tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis) or mediastinal. See also scrofuloderma.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


Inflammation of a lymph node or lymph nodes.
[lymphadeno- + G. -itis, inflammation]
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


(lĭm-făd′n-ī′tĭs, lĭm′fə-də-nī′-)
Inflammation of one or more lymph nodes.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


Lymph gland infection Inflammation of lymph nodes
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Inflammation of a lymph node or lymph nodes.
[lymphadeno- + G. -itis, inflammation]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


Inflammation of LYMPH NODES, usually secondary to infection in the area draining to the affected nodes. Thus an infection in the leg may cause lymphadenitis in the groin.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005


Inflammation of one or more lymph nodes.
[lymphadeno- + G. -itis, inflammation]
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012
References in periodicals archive ?
Tuberculosis cervical lymphadenitis. Postgrade Med J 1971;47(553):713-7.
Tuberculosis also can present with cervical lymphadenitis. That possibility makes it advisable to order serology testing for purified protein derivative to look for mycobacterial infection.
From 3 otherwise healthy patients (40-year-old man, psoas abscess; 2-year-old girl, cervical lymphadenitis; 54-year-old man, neck abscess), M.lentiflavum and Staphylococcus aureus were cultured.
His medical history was significant for several recurrent basal cell carcinomas of the head and neck (which had been treated with cryotherapy and excision) and for tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis (for which he had received a full course of standard antituberculosis chemotherapy).
* Acute cervical lymphadenitis that is due to group A streptococcal infection.
We report a case of acute cervical lymphadenitis caused by M.
Dental abscess had preceded the onset of symptoms in 16 patients, left peritonsillar abscess in 2 patients, posttraumatic sepsis of the left sternoclavicular joint in 2, and both pharyngeal and cervical lymphadenitis in 1.
An afebrile 8-year-old boy presents with cervical lymphadenitis. The node is mildly tender, and there is no erythema of the overlying skin.
Though all these patients had florid fungal infections of the head and neck, only one patient had documented clinical and radiological evidence of cervical lymphadenitis. All patients of invasive fungal infections were managed successfully except one case of zygomycotic necrotizing fasciitis (Fig.
In 1 patient, the infection spread and caused culture-proven cervical lymphadenitis, a retroauricular abscess, fistula, and facial nerve palsy.
Cervical lymphadenitis and cat scratch disease (CSD): An overlooked disease?