How Do You Evaluate Swollen Cervical Lymph Nodes?

The evaluation of an isolated, swollen cervical lymph node consists of examining its characteristics, the patient’s risk factors and the presence of other clinical symptoms, according to K. M. Green Lerberg et al. in a 2007 article in The Journal of Family Practice. Node characteristics include drainage, size, mobility and whether the node is hard or soft.

When symptoms such as fever are present with a swollen cervical lymph node, a physician prescribes an antibiotic and reevaluates the node a few weeks later. If the node persists after the infection is gone, the physician may suspect the swelling is due to an inflammatory reaction and order a tuberculin skin test to make sure the swelling is not due to tuberculosis, states K. M. Green Lerberg et al.

Other infectious causes of swollen lymph nodes include upper respiratory infections. In these cases, the patient has little to no tenderness in the nodes and the presence of a runny nose, cough and a sore throat. Dental infections have also been known to cause lymphadenopathy on the side where the dental work was performed. Infectious mononucleosis is a frequent cause of lymph node swelling, not only in the neck, but also in the armpit and the groin, notes The Merck Manual Home Edition.

K. M. Green Lerberg et al. explains that some practitioners recommend observing nodes as small as 2 to 3 centimeters in diameter in patients without symptoms of infection. Isolated nodes larger than 4 centimeters are typically biopsied, especially if they are immobile, and fixed to surrounding structures.