Have you ever been sick and had swollen lymph nodes? Or maybe you go to the doctor when you are ill and they feel your neck to look for any swelling in the lymph nodes. So, what are lymph nodes, why do we have them, what do they do, and why do they get swollen? Let’s dig deeper into this topic to answer these questions.
Lymphatic System Basics
Let’s review some anatomy and physiology. The human body has several systems that work together to keep you alive and functioning. One of those systems is the lymphatic system, which is a major part of the immune system. The lymphatic system and the immune system work together to defend the body against infection and disease. The lymphatic system has four main functions which include:
- Protecting the body from illness
- Maintaining body fluid levels
- Absorbing digestive tract fats
- Removing cellular waste and abnormal cells from lymph fluid
These functions are executed by using the several tissues, vessels, and organs that make up the lymphatic system which includes lymph nodes. In simple terms, the lymphatic system collects the excess fluid and wastes that are not absorbed into the blood. This fluid is called lymph. The excess fluid then circulates through the lymphatic system until it is returned to the blood. The lymph fluid can carry components in it such as cells, protein, fat, minerals, nutrients, foreign invaders that cause illness, and more. The lymph nodes help to filter the unwanted components of the lymph fluid.
What are Lymph Nodes?
The lymph nodes are a part of the lymphatic system and are small glands that filter the lymphatic fluid. There are approximately 600 lymph nodes throughout the body. They are physically described as being the size of a pea and shaped like a kidney bean. The most common locations of lymph nodes in the body are the armpits, groin, and neck. Lymph nodes’ main functions include
- Filtering and cleansing lymphatic fluid
- Producing and storing lymphocytes and other immune system cells to fight off infection
Why are My Lymph Nodes Swollen?
Lymph nodes become swollen when the body is fighting an infection, inflammation, or cancer. If your lymph nodes are swollen you should see your doctor. If you have a common cold or illness, your lymph nodes could become swollen and the swelling will go down once you are starting to recover from the illness. If your lymph nodes are continuously swollen, tender, painful, or hard, you should see your healthcare provider because something more serious could be going on.