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Abdominal Lymph Node Enlargement Explained

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Abdominal Lymph Node Enlargement Explained

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Enlarged lymph nodes are caused by infection, cancer, or as a part of immune disorders. This article will explain the enlarged lymph node condition in detail.

Written by

Dr. Ajeet Kumar

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sneha Kannan

Published At July 2, 2020
Reviewed AtMay 21, 2024

Introduction:

The abdominal lymph nodes are scavengers that help eliminate infections or inflammation within the abdomen. They also help drain inflammatory debris from the abdomen to systemic blood circulation. They can temporarily enlarge and may cause some abdominal symptoms. However, the chronic enlargement of these lymph glands is considered pathological and often requires thorough investigations to diagnose the underlying cause. In this article, we will discuss the possible underlying causes of the enlargement of abdominal lymph nodes, their target approach, and management of the underlying disorder.

What Are the Symptoms of an Enlarged Lymph Node?

Patients often do not feel any symptoms unless advanced stages of lymph node enlargement are present.

The common symptoms that patients report are:

  1. Low-grade fever.

  2. Mild to moderate abdominal pain.

  3. Diarrhea or constipation.

  4. Weight loss.

  5. Low hemoglobin levels in the blood.

  6. Active bleeding from the mouth or anus.

The patient often reports such symptoms over a long period. The physician in charge of looking after that patient should have a high level of suspicion to diagnose the disorder. A physician needs to have a low threshold for investigating an individual who is presenting with unusual weight loss or low hemoglobin, or a personal or family history of any abdominal tumors.

What Are the Functions of Lymph Nodes and Lymph Glands?

The lymph nodes are human tissues that work as scavengers to help eliminate infections by providing local immunity and draining inflammatory debris away from inflamed tissues to other lymphoid organs such as the spleen, bone marrow, and others. These lymph nodes are normally scattered throughout the human body, but they are comparatively in large numbers in the abdomen.

What Are Acute and Chronic Lymph Node Enlargement of the Abdomen?

In acute (that lasts for a short time) infection or inflammation, these lymph nodes enlarge for a short duration and then return to their normal size once the infection or inflammation goes away.

However, in contrast to chronic (ongoing) infection or inflammation, these lymph nodes tend to remain enlarged for a long duration of time and usually, the presence of lymph nodes over a long period of time suggests ongoing problems within the abdomen.

What Are the Causes of Lymph Node Enlargement?

A few of the causes or conditions causing lymph node enlargement are,

What is Mesenteric Lymphadentitis?

Mesenteric lymphadenitis is inflammation of the lymph nodes in the abdomen. It is common in children and teenagers and usually does not occur in adults or individuals over 20 years of age. The exact rate of occurrence is not known as many cases resolve on their own and don’t require treatment. Lymph nodes can swell because of an infection or be a symptom of a condition that causes inflammation.

What Are the Possible Differential Diagnoses?

  1. Tuberculosis lymphadenitis.

  2. Low-grade abdominal lymphoma.

  3. Yesenia-induced lymphadenitis.

  4. Sclerosing mesenteritis.

  5. Small bowel tumors or abdominal tumors.

What Are the Diagnostic Procedures Available to Diagnose Enlargement of Lymph Nodes?

  • Complete the blood picture with a peripheral film.

  • ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate).

  • CRP (C-reactive protein).

  • LDH (lactic acid dehydrogenase).

  • Uric acid.

  • Renal function tests and electrolytes.

  • Blood IGRA (interferon-gamma release assay) for tuberculosis.

  • Abdominal computed tomography (CT) or CT scan of the chest and pelvis.

  • Positron emission tomography (PET).

  • CT scan to look for distant organ involvement.

  • Lastly, the lymph node mesenteric biopsy reliably confirms the underlying cause of enlarged lymph nodes.

What Is Lymph Node and Mesenteric Biopsy?

The lymph node and mesenteric biopsy can be performed in a single setting. It is basically a procedure where a radiologist passes a needle under the guidance of a CT scan to reach one of the enlarged lymph nodes and small intestine mesentery on the back of your stomach, remove tissue from it, and send it to a histopathology lab to be examined under a microscope. The procedure is safe in expert hands.

The patient must meet with a radiologist to discuss the pros and cons of performing a lymph node biopsy under ultrasound or CT scan guidance. The word biopsy is often tempting for the patients, and people often get anxious while listening to a biopsy. Still, as already said, the procedure is relatively safe in expert hands. Secondly, at times, the biopsy is deemed necessary because, without a biopsy, no other tests can reliably exclude or confirm the potential diagnosis in question.

How to Manage Enlarged Lymph Nodes?

An initial diagnosis of the enlarged lymph nodes in the abdomen can be established with the help of a multidisciplinary team consisting of a gastroenterologist, a radiologist, and an infectious disease expert. Once the diagnosis is established, the patient can then be referred to a physician or a surgeon with expertise in the management of that individual disorder. The medical implications of individual disorders are entirely different.

Sclerosing mesenteritis, which is benign (not harmful), requires just observation unless complicated. Other disorders, like low-grade lymphoma, require aggressive anti-tumor treatment and more frequent follow-ups with a medical oncologist and a radiologist.

Similarly, infections like Yesenia enterocolitis and tuberculosis require single or combination antibiotic therapy for a prolonged duration, followed by a visit to an infectious disease specialist.

In cases where patients with small bowel tumors or any other abdominal tumor are found to be candidates for surgical resection, they should be referred to a surgeon with relevant expertise in the field.

Follow-up and Long-term Management:

The long-term management of enlarged abdominal lymph nodes depends on the cause of the disorder. Infections like tuberculosis and Yesenia do not require long-term follow-up after their successful treatment with antibiotics. However, disorders like small bowel tumors or lymphoma, a blood-related tumor, require a long-term follow-up with a medical oncologist, surgical oncologist, and radiologist who will provide repeated surveillance CT scans of the abdomen to monitor the disease.

How to Prevent Lymph Node Enlargement?

As such, physicians cannot recommend preventive measures to their patients to prevent the enlargement of abdominal lymph nodes. However, patients must seek medical advice as soon as possible if they report any unusual weight loss, low-grade fever, low blood hemoglobin, or new onset of any symptoms while having a strong family history of abdominal diseases like abdominal tuberculosis and abdominal tumors.

Conclusion:

Not all the enlarged lymph nodes are cancerous. However, seeking a doctor’s assistance is vital to prevent severe complications. Enlarged lymph nodes that have been present for a long time will be examined soon.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

Are the Enlarged Lymph Nodes in the Abdomen Considered Benign, and When Is It Considered Abnormal?

The adnominal lymph nodes get swollen when they are against any form of infection or any body illness. In most systemic cases, the swollen abdominal lymph nodes are considered benign. And it is considered abnormal when the swollen lymph nodes exceed the allowed size and show a positive biopsy result.

2.

What Do the Abdominal Lymph Nodes Do?

The functions of the abdominal lymph nodes are:
 - Preventing the body from infection and fighting against infections. 
 - Regulating body temperature and body fluid levels.
 - Removing cell wastes.
 - Absorbs excessive fats from the food tract

3.

What Is the Normal and Cancerous Abdominal Lymph Nodes Size, and Are Always the Cancerous Lymph Nodes Larger?

According to the evaluation tests, the normal size of abdominal lymph nodes is usually around six to 20mm (millimeter). The larger lymph nodes, especially around 1cm, are considered malignant or cancerous.

4.

What is the name of the abdominal lymph nodes? Can We Palpate them and How Do They Feel Under Touch?

The abdominal lymph nodes are called mesenteric lymph nodes; In general, the lymph nodes present on external surfaces like the neck, armpit, etc., are easier to palpate, but the abdominal lymph nodes are placed deep within the surface of tissues and are not palpable.

5.

How Can We Find Cancerous Lymph Nodes?

Lymph Nodes are considered cancerous by testing the lymph nodes through biopsy or assessing their size. A positive cancerous lymph node is associated with clinical symptoms like fatigue, painless swelling, weight loss, loss of appetite, fever, etc.

6.

Can We Treat Abdominal Lymphoma?

Yes, lymphoma is a treatable condition and has many treatment options available such as:
- Antibiotic therapies or chemotherapy
- Through surgical management
- By radiation therapy.

7.

By What Method Is Abdominal Biopsy and Lymph Node Excision Done?

The biopsy is done to identify the presence of any abnormality in the cells, and the biopsy in the abdominal walls is done by a tube-like instrument called a flexible endoscope. The tube is inserted through the throat into the stomach, the biopsy is done, and minimally invasive laparoscopic procedures excise the lymph node.
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Dr. Ajeet Kumar
Dr. Ajeet Kumar

Medical Gastroenterology

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