Diagnosing Swollen Lymph Nodes in the Head

May 7th 2016

Swollen lymph nodes are not usually the primary source of pain for patients. The underlying condition causing the swollen nodes on the back of the head can cause the most discomfort, and that is what is typically treated. The nodes usually return to their previous size once the treatment is successful.

Causes

Swollen lymph nodes are commonly caused by infections, such as an impacted tooth, mouth sores, colds, ear and skin infections, or the flu. In some cases, individuals with gingivitis, mononucleosis, tonsillitis or tuberculosis may experience swollen lymph nodes in the back of the head. Sexually transmitted illnesses can cause them as well. Serious conditions such as certain cancers and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or HIV can also cause lymph nodes in the head to swell.

Symptoms

People with swollen lymph nodes may notice that the backs of their heads feel tender. Visible lumps in their skin may be the size of a pea or larger. Some individuals contract a fever or suffer from a runny nose, sore throat and night sweats when their lymph nodes are swollen. In extreme cases, other limbs may swell in addition to the lymph nodes in their heads.

Diagnosis

Individuals with swollen lymph nodes in the head should consult with a physician to treat the underlying condition causing the condition. If the lymph nodes are enlarged for two to four weeks or are accompanied by an unexplained weight loss, night sweats or a persistent fever, a physician may conduct blood tests to evaluate liver and kidney function, perform a lymph node biopsy, or request a liver and spleen scan.

Treatment

Treatment for swollen lymph nodes is aimed at addressing the cause. Swollen lymph nodes on the back of the head caused by a viral infection are commonly treated with antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria responsible for the condition. Treating those caused by an autoimmune illness such as HIV involves treatment specifically for the underlying condition. Cancer patients often undergo radiation therapy, chemotherapy or surgery to eliminate or reduce cancerous cells and tumors.

Conclusion

Lymph nodes are an important component of the immune system that helps the body fight infections and germs. When one or more lymph nodes are enlarged, particularly on the back of the head, that is typically an indication of an infection or autoimmune disorder. Swollen lymph nodes often return to their normal size once the infection has cleared, but it may be necessary to consult with a physician if the swelling in the back of the head does not subside after a few weeks or is causing extreme discomfort.

Sources

PennMedicine.org "Swollen lymph nodes" http://www.pennmedicine.org/encyclopedia/em_PrintArticle.aspx?gcid=003097
MayoClinic.org "Swollen lymph nodes: Symptoms" http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/swollen-lymph-nodes/basics/symptoms/con-20029652
WebMD.com "Swollen lymph nodes" http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/swollen-lymph-nodes-topic-overview
MayoClinic.org "Swollen lymph nodes: Treatments and drugs" http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/swollen-lymph-nodes/basics/treatment/con-20029652

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