How are swollen lymph nodes diagnosed?

Swollen lymph nodes aren’t a disease, they’re a symptom. Usually, diagnosing them means pinpointing what’s causing the swelling.

Besides a regular physical exam and medical history, your doctor will evaluate your swollen lymph nodes for:

  • Size.
  • Pain or tenderness when touched.
  • Consistency (hard or rubbery).
  • Matting (whether they feel joined or move together).
  • Location (specific diseases can be tied to where the swollen lymph nodes are in your body).

Your doctor will make sure your swollen lymph nodes aren’t caused by any of your medications. Some drugs, like the anti-seizure medication phenytoin (Dilantin®) can cause swollen lymph nodes.

Doctors only worry about swollen lymph nodes when they enlarge for no apparent reason. So if you have a large, swollen area but you’re not feeling sick and you didn’t recently have a cold, flu, upper respiratory infection or skin infection, you’ll need further tests, like blood work, imaging scans or a biopsy.

In rare situations, swollen lymph nodes can even point to cancer ― specifically, lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system). Other less common causes of swollen lymph nodes include injury, AIDS and cancer that’s spread from the lymph nodes to another part of your body.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy