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  • Author: Elizabeth Partridge, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Russell W Steele, MD  more...
Updated: May 11, 2015


Lymphadenitis is the inflammation or enlargement of a lymph node. Lymph nodes are small, ovoid nodules normally ranging in size from a few millimeters to 2 cm. They are distributed in clusters along the course of lymphatic vessels located throughout the body. The primary function of lymph nodes is to filter out microorganisms and abnormal cells that have collected in lymph fluid.[1]

Lymph node enlargement is a common feature in a variety of diseases and may serve as a focal point for subsequent clinical investigation of diseases of the reticuloendothelial system or regional infection. The majority of cases represent a benign response to localized or systemic infection. Most children with lymphadenitis exhibit small, palpable cervical, axillary, and inguinal lymph nodes. Less common is enlargement of the suboccipital or postauricular nodes. Palpable supraclavicular, epitrochlear, and popliteal lymph nodes are uncommon, as are enlarged mediastinal and abdominal nodes.

Lymphadenitis may affect a single node or a group of nodes (regional adenopathy) and may be unilateral or bilateral. The onset and course of lymphadenitis may be acute, subacute, or chronic.



Increased lymph node size may be caused by the following:

  • Multiplication of cells within the node, including lymphocytes, plasma cells, monocytes, or histiocytes
  • Infiltration of cells from outside the node, such as malignant cells or neutrophils
  • Draining of an infection (eg, abscess) into local lymph nodes
Contributor Information and Disclosures

Elizabeth Partridge, MD, MPH Resident Physician, Department of Pediatrics, University of California Davis Children’s Hospital

Elizabeth Partridge, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Dean A Blumberg, MD Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Chief, Section of Pediatric Infectious Disease, University of California Davis Children's Hospital

Dean A Blumberg, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society for Microbiology, American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, California Medical Association, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society

Disclosure: Received grant/research funds from Novartis for clinical research investigator; Received speaking fees paid to university, not self from Merck for speaking and teaching; Received speaking fees paid to university, not self from sanofi pasteur for speaking and teaching.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Larry I Lutwick, MD Professor of Medicine, State University of New York Downstate Medical School; Director, Infectious Diseases, Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Health Care System, Brooklyn Campus

Larry I Lutwick, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, Infectious Diseases Society of America

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Russell W Steele, MD Clinical Professor, Tulane University School of Medicine; Staff Physician, Ochsner Clinic Foundation

Russell W Steele, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Immunologists, American Pediatric Society, American Society for Microbiology, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Louisiana State Medical Society, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, Society for Pediatric Research, Southern Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Gary J Noel, MD Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Weill Cornell Medical College; Attending Pediatrician, New York-Presbyterian Hospital

Gary J Noel, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


The authors and editors of Medscape Reference gratefully acknowledge the contributions of previous author, Ulfat Shaikh, MD, MPH, to the development and writing of this article.

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A lymph node biopsy is performed. Note that a marking pen has been used to outline the node before removal and that a silk suture has been used to provide traction to assist the removal.
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