Glands become swollen for different reasons. If you have swollen glands because of a virus, they usually get better without treatment. If you’re not sure why you have swollen glands, if they are painful or getting bigger, or if you are feeling unwell, it's a good idea to see your doctor.
What are swollen glands?
Glands are lymph nodes. They are part of the lymphatic system, which fights infection. Lymph nodes filter impurities from the lymph, which is a type of body fluid.
Glands in many different parts of the body can become swollen, but you’re more likely to feel them in your neck, in your armpits or in your groin.
What causes swollen glands?
There are many different causes of swollen glands. Most of them are not serious.
Having swollen glands usually means your immune system is fighting an infection in the swollen area. For example, if you have a sore throat from a virus, you may get swollen neck glands. An infection on your leg can cause swollen glands in the groin.
Causes of swollen glands include:
- viruses (including glandular fever)
- insect bites
- bacterial infection, such as tonsillitis
Out of 100 people with swollen glands, only one, if any, is likely to have cancer. In young people cancer is even less likely.
Swollen glands diagnosis
If you see your doctor about your swollen glands, he or she will ask you questions about your symptoms, and examine you.
If you have a simple infection, you may not need any medical tests.
In some situations, your doctor might order blood tests or a scan. If the results suggest cancer, you may need to have a biopsy of the gland.
Swollen glands treatment
Swollen glands caused by a virus don't need treatment. The glands eventually shrink. This can take a few weeks or longer.
If you have a bacterial infection, your doctor might give you antibiotics.
If your swollen gland is due to cancer, your doctor can refer you to the appropriate specialist for treatment.
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Last reviewed: April 2020