What is mesenteric lymphadenitis?
Mesenteric lymphadenitis, also known as mesenteric adenitis, is inflammation (swelling) of the lymph nodes in the abdomen (belly). Lymph nodes are organs that are part of your body’s immune system. They filter harmful substances such as bacteria and viruses so that they don’t spread to other parts of your body. Lymph nodes are about the size of a pea, but they can get larger and become tender when inflamed.
The word “mesenteric” refers to inflammation occurring in the mesentery, which is a fold of membrane that attaches your bowel to the wall of your abdomen.
Who does mesenteric lymphadenitis affect?
Mesenteric lymphadenitis is common in children and teenagers. It usually doesn’t occur in adults or people over 20 years old.
How common is mesenteric lymphadenitis?
Mesenteric lymphadenitis is rare. The exact rate of occurrence is unknown because many cases resolve on their own and don’t need treatment.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of mesenteric lymphadenitis?
Symptoms of mesenteric lymphadenitis range in severity. Symptoms of mesenteric lymphadenitis are similar to appendicitis and could include:
- Pain in the abdomen, often on the lower right side of the belly.
- Tenderness in the abdomen.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
Enlarged lymph nodes in the abdomen may cause pain. An infection in the intestinal tract can cause symptoms of diarrhea and nausea.
What causes mesenteric lymphadenitis?
Swollen (inflamed) lymph nodes in the abdomen cause mesenteric lymphadenitis. Lymph nodes can swell because of an infection or they could be a symptom of a condition that causes inflammation.
An infection by a virus or bacteria usually causes mesenteric lymphadenitis. Infections that could cause mesenteric lymphadenitis include:
- Gastroenteritis (sometimes called the stomach flu).
- Bacteria found in undercooked meat (Yersinia enterocolitica).
- Infection related to HIV.
Inflammation in your child’s abdominal lymph nodes could be the result of another condition that creates another part of your body to swell including:
- Cancers (lymphoma, gastrointestinal cancer).
- Inflammatory bowel disease.
Is mesenteric lymphadenitis contagious?
If the mesenteric lymphadenitis is the result of a virus, then the virus itself may be contagious.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is mesenteric lymphadenitis diagnosed?
To diagnose mesenteric lymphadenitis, your child’s provider will perform a physical exam and review your child’s medical history. They will also ask questions about your child’s symptoms including how long they’ve had them and if they were recently sick before their symptoms started. They may even recommend blood tests, including a complete blood count (CBC).
Because there are a large number of lymph nodes in the same area as the appendix (the right lower abdomen), symptoms of mesenteric lymphadenitis are similar to those of appendicitis (inflamed appendix). Your provider may use imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or CT scan, to rule out appendicitis, which is a medical emergency.
Management and Treatment
How is mesenteric lymphadenitis treated?
Most children with mesenteric lymphadenitis get better without treatment in one to four weeks. The condition doesn’t cause any lasting effects after recovery.
While mesenteric lymphadenitis is self-resolving, your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe medications to manage symptoms. If your child’s diagnosis is the result of a bacterial infection, your provider will prescribe antibiotics.
Other steps to manage the symptoms of mesenteric lymphadenitis include:
- Drinking water to stay hydrated after vomiting and diarrhea.
- Applying heat to the abdomen with a heating pad.
- Taking over-the-counter pain medication.
How can I prevent mesenteric lymphadenitis?
You can reduce your risk of developing mesenteric lymphadenitis caused by infection by:
- Washing your hands regularly with soap and water.
- Avoiding close contact with someone who is sick.
How do I prevent mesenteric lymphadenitis in my diet?
Since bacteria causes mesenteric lymphadenitis, you should take precautions when preparing your food to stop the spread of bacteria including:
- Washing your hands before and after touching raw food.
- Keeping your food preparation areas clean.
- Cooking raw food, especially meat, to an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Using separate utensils and cutting boards for meat and vegetables.
- Avoid drinking untreated water, especially from ponds or lakes.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have mesenteric lymphadenitis?
If your child has mesenteric lymphadenitis, they will experience mild pain like a throbbing sensation in the lower right part of their belly or in other areas of their abdomen. This pain can be accompanied by flu-like symptoms and feeling sick. A heating pad or warm compress can help your child’s stomach pain. If their pain is severe, your provider might prescribe medicine to ease their symptoms.
During their illness, your child will need plenty of rest.
While your child won’t want to eat because they might be nauseous or have diarrhea, your child will still need to get nutrients by eating light meals and staying hydrated.
How long does mesenteric lymphadenitis last?
Your child will experience symptoms for a few weeks, most often between one and four weeks. The condition goes away on its own and won’t create any symptoms later in life.
Can my child go to school if they have mesenteric lymphadenitis?
Most children with mesenteric lymphadenitis won’t feel well enough to go to school or participate in regular activities during their illness, especially if they have symptoms of nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea. They can return to school and normal activities as soon as their symptoms go away. Some children may need to rest more than usual until they’ve fully recovered.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
Contact your provider if your child has:
- Severe pain in the abdomen that comes on quickly.
- Abdominal pain with a fever, nausea and/or diarrhea.
- Pain that interferes with appetite, bowel movements or sleeping habits.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
If your child has mesenteric lymphadenitis, you may want to ask your doctor:
- How serious is mesenteric lymphadenitis?
- What complications should I look out for?
- Is there anything my child should avoid during recovery?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Children with mesenteric lymphadenitis will experience pain and discomfort that will go away within a few weeks. Make sure your child gets enough nutrients and water during their illness, even if they might not feel up to eating a full meal.
Even though the condition is self-resolving, getting an official diagnosis to rule out conditions that need emergency treatment is vital. If you are an adult over 20 years old and experience symptoms of mesenteric lymphadenitis, contact your healthcare provider immediately or visit the emergency room because you might be experiencing symptoms of appendicitis rather than mesenteric lymphadenitis.
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