Last updated: March 9, 2020
Richard Honaker M.D.
Primary Care Physician
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Swollen lymph nodes can be your body’s way of letting you know there is something wrong. Check out everything you need to know about swollen lymph nodes in the groin.
Your lymphatic system is probably the most important part of your body that you know nothing about. After all, as long as it is working properly it is largely flying under the radar. It keeps you healthy and your body working in sync. It can also be one of the first indicators that something is wrong and you need to seek medical attention.
Your Lymphatic System
Many people may have heard the term ‘lymph nodes’ especially when it comes to a cancer diagnosis, but are unsure of what exactly their role in the body is. Lymph nodes are an important part of your lymphatic system. The lymphatic system plays an important role to support your immune system.
The lymphatic system includes organs, lymph vessels, fluid and nodes that work together to eliminate waste, fluid and bacteria from your body’s tissue and put nutrients into the bloodstream.
Each individual part of the lymphatic system plays an important role in supporting your health.
The Lymphatic Organs
There are both primary and secondary lymphatic organs within the lymphatic system. The primary organs include bone marrow and the thymus.
Bone marrow: Produces white blood cells called lymphocytes which work to fight off disease and infection.
Thymus: Produces white blood cells called T-lymphocytes which help the immune system to fight off infection and illness.
The secondary organs include the spleen and lymph nodes.
Spleen: The spleen produces lymphocytes to fight off antigens and removes pathogens and old red blood cells.
Lymph nodes: Act as a filter to remove foreign particles and cancer cells.
Lymph vessels are interconnected within the body into pathways which slowly guide the lymph fluid from the body’s tissue walls and into the chest where it will be absorbed into the bloodstream. Before the fluid is ready to enter the bloodstream it must first pass through a series of filters called lymph nodes.
The lymph vessels run along the body much like your veins although even the biggest lymph vessel is smaller than your largest vein. Along the vessels there are nodes placed at different intervals, much like beads on a chain. The fluid is often slowly filtered through several sets of nodes before it reaches its final destination.
Lymph fluid, also known as lymph, packs a powerful punch for your immune system. The lymph performs the important job of cleaning your body’s tissues. The fluid picks up bacteria and waste products to be removed by the lymph nodes and contains White blood cells called lymphocytes.
There are two main types of lymphocytes:
- B lymphocytes (B cells): The role of these cells is to protect the body. It makes antibodies to protect you from viruses and bacteria.
- T lymphocytes (T cells): The role of these cells is the boost the activity of other immune cells while destroying germs and abnormal cells.
The lymph fluid itself has a white hue due to the presence of fatty acids and cholesterol (fat products) within it. The lymph fluid moves slowly through the lymphatic vessels removing impurities and carrying nutrients.
The role of the lymph nodes is to act as a filter for the lymph fluid. You have approximately 600 lymph nodes throughout your body. Some are close to the skin and can be felt when swollen, others are buried deep within the body.
Lymph nodes appear on the lymph vessels intermittently much like beads on a string. They are often grouped together. Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped pieces of lymphatic tissue, usually about .5 to 1cm in size.
When the lymph fluid enters the node viruses, bacteria and even cancer cells are broken down. The nodes are able to do this because they contain immune cells that can slowly break down infection in the body.
Why Do Lymph Nodes in the Groin Swell?
When the lymph nodes are not swollen they are not easy to feel. There are areas in the body where groups of nodes are very concentrated and located close to the surface of the skin. These areas include the neck, under the jaw, behind the ear, in the armpit and around the groin.
With the larger numbers of nodes and the proximity to the surface of the skin, these areas can often offer telltale signs that your lymph nodes are swollen.
Doctors will often routinely feel your neck, jaw and area around your ears during an examination. This is because your lymph nodes will often swell in the area your body is fighting an infection. When you are experiencing an upper respiratory infection, the lymph nodes in your neck, jaw and ear may be affected.
The swollen lymph nodes, along with the other symptoms you are experiencing, will give your doctor all the information they need in order to make a diagnosis.
Lymph nodes become swollen when they are exposed to an infection, illness or injury. Groups of nodes will often swell as they work together to help the body fight off the virus, bacteria or fungal infection.
Lymph nodes can swell when the body’s immune system is compromised with an illness.
In some cases, an injury can cause the lymph nodes to swell. This may be because the injury is preventing the lymph fluid from draining properly.
Read more: Swollen Lymph nodes in the armpit
Symptoms of Swollen Lymph Nodes
When your lymph nodes are normal they will usually measure between .5 and 1 cm. When swollen, they can grow from the size of a pea to as large as a cherry.
With this swelling you can also experience the following symptoms:
- The area may be tender to the touch. In some cases, movement can cause discomfort as well.
- The nodes may be swollen, hard and enlarged
- Sweating and or night sweats
Possible causes For Swollen Lymph Nodes in the Groin
Since we know that lymph nodes often swell as the result of an infection in the area, it would make sense that swollen lymph nodes in the groin are a result of an infection in the genitals. While the logic is sound, this is not always the case.
Swollen lymph nodes in the groin can be caused by a variety of reasons including:
- Skin infections
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Certain cancers including leukemia and lymphoma
- Cervical cancer
When to Speak to a Doctor
When it comes to taking a proactive approach to your health, it is important to know what is normal for you, so you are able to report any changes to your doctor. Swollen lymph nodes, especially when they are located in the groin area, may indicate an issue with your health that needs your attention.
It is important to connect with your doctor if you are experiencing the following symptoms:
- Swollen lymph nodes for more than 14 days
- Swollen lymph nodes that are enlarged and hard
- Persistent fever
- Weight loss
- Night Sweats
- Difficulty breathing
- Redness around the lymph node
Diagnosis a Swollen Lymph Node in the Groin
To properly diagnose a swollen lymph node in the groin your doctor will need to perform a full physical exam of the area. Your doctor will gently feel the area using their hands to determine if the area is swollen or sensitive to touch.
Your doctor will also ask you about any other symptoms you have been experiencing to get a better understanding of what is causing the lymph node to swell.
Your doctor may run a blood test to look for signs of infection. In some cases an x-ray or CT scan may be necessary to look for tumors or better understand the cause of infection.
A lymph node biopsy may also be required. This is done by using a needle to remove a few cells from the lymph node for a histopathology test. This is basically a closer look at the tissue to see if it has been affected by cancer.
Treatment of Swollen Lymph Nodes in the Groin
The treatment plan for swollen lymph nodes depends on the cause of the initial swelling. If the reason for swelling is a minor infection, the swelling can be resolved by antibiotics.
If the reason is an injury to the area, you may need to rest in order to heal or surgery may be recommended.
If you have cancer, the area will remain swollen until the cancer is resolved. Often cancer is treated with one or a combination of radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.
Feel Better Faster
Did you know that lymph nodes can actually swell as a result of stress? Don’t wait to connect with a doctor about your health concerns. With the Your Doctors Online app you can do an online chat with a North American doctor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Don’t wait for an appointment. Connect right now and feel better faster.
*not her real name
Disclaimer: This article provides general information and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. If you require specific advice, please consult one of our medical professionals through the app. However, in case of an emergency, please call 911.
About Richard Honaker M.D.
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