What are the Cervical Lymph Nodes?

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  • Originally Written By: S. Rumple
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2019
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The cervical lymph nodes are glands in the human lymphatic system, which is a complicated series of vessels and passageways that bring specialized fluid to the heart and most major organs. The cervical system is located in the neck and is present in people of both genders, adults and children alike. There are about 300 individual nodes in the system. Many are near the surface of the skin, and medical professionals often feel them during a routine exam to get a sense of a person’s overall health since they tend to swell when a person is sick. Sometimes swelling indicates a temporary virus or an intense cold, but it can also be a symptom of more serious blood conditions like lymphoma. The earlier these sorts of problems are diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis is likely to be.

Understanding Lymph

Lymph is a clear fluid made primarily of proteins taken from the blood, and it plays a very important role in the body’s immune system. The lymphatic system as a whole is quite extensive and covers nearly all parts of the body. It is made up of two primary components: nodes and capillaries. Nodes are bundles of tissue where cells known as lymphocytes are created, then released into the lymph fluid where they will be carried and ultimately delivered into the bloodstream via capillary. Capillaries are thin-walled vessels that allow fluid out of the system without letting blood or other matter in.


The Cervical Lymph System

Nearly all of the lymph nodes in the head, face, and neck are part of the cervical system, and most experts estimate the total number at over 300. Some are right near the surface of the skin, usually under the chin and on the back of the neck; many more are deep within the muscular structure and all but undetectable without advanced medical scanning. They are classified in a number of different ways, largely based on their location.

Concerns With Swelling

The cervical lymph nodes are some of the best known nodes of the lymphatic system in part because of their role in disease detection. When the body is fighting some sort of major infection, all or at least many of the lymph nodes may swell. This is usually a result of problems producing enough fluid, or problems filtering toxins out of the blood and recycling things out in time to allow the system to perform as needed for optimal health. Most of the time this swelling can’t be detected externally, but in the cervical system it often can. People sometimes feel lumps just under the jaw or in the upper neck behind the ear when there is swelling.

The medical term for swollen or enlarged lymph nodes is lymphadenopathy. There are many different reason a patient can have swollen nodes and it can be difficult to diagnose an underlying cause. In many cases the nodes will return to normal within a week or two, but when swelling persists, an individual should see a doctor so that a diagnosis can be made.


One of the most common causes of swollen lymph nodes is mononucleosis. Mononucleosis, also known as "mono" or the "kissing disease," is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. It can be spread by saliva, often exchanged by drinking from an infected person's drinking glass or utensils; kissing is also a common transmission method. It is often spread by people who do not show any symptoms. It tends to be most common in pre-teens and young adults, but almost anyone is susceptible. Major symptoms include extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, and weight loss, but the condition is often first detected by bulging lumps out of the cervical lymph system.


Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system. One of the first symptoms is swollen armpit, groin, or cervical lymph nodes. Lymphoma falls into two general categories: Hodgkin's disease and Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Hodgkin's disease, of which there are several types, involves a specific type of abnormal lymphocyte called Reed-Sternberg cells. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma also affects the lymphocytes, but does not involve the development of Reed-Sternberg cells. There are many different types of Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, depending on which lymphocytes are affected, the size of the cancer cells, cell growth pattern, and other factors.


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Post 1

My daughter is in high school and she came home the other day telling me that a bunch of students have mono (Oh, joy!). We are both a little concerned about her getting it, and I’ve told her not to share any drinks or utensils with other students. However, this article says that you can catch it even if an infected person just coughs or sneezes near you, so I’m at a loss for how to fully protect her from it. I’m assuming there is no vaccine for mono. However, if she does get it, are there other symptoms besides just swollen lymph nodes to indicate that she has it (are symptoms similar to a cold or flu)? I’ve heard of students being out for a month or so because of it. If the only symptom is swollen lymph nodes, is this an infection that will clear up on its own or does it always need medication?

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