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What Are the Causes of Swollen Lymph Nodes in the Armpit?

written by: Rochelle Connery • edited by: Stephanie Mojica • updated: 3/14/2011

Women often find swollen lymph nodes in their armpits for seemingly no reason at all. And while we tend to think the worst when we feel these puffy nodules, not all occurrences are cause for grave concern. Here are some of the most common causes of swollen lymph nodes.

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    Local Infection

    Sometimes local infections in the armpit act like swollen lymph nodes. Abscesses and cysts commonly appear in the armpit as a result of shaving or switching to a new antiperspirant. Oftentimes these are located under the skin and do not exhibit signs of redness or infection at the skin’s surface.

    Sometimes these liquid-filled cysts go away on their own. That’s good news, since more serious symptoms aren’t likely to behave like that.

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    Illness

    Illnesses like strep throat often cause swollen lymph nodes in several areas of the body, including the armpits. If your symptoms are worse, and include a fever, you might have a viral infection like "mono" or a bacterial infection.

    If you have a bacterial infection, you’ll probably want to visit a doctor to get an antibiotic, which will help the swollen lymph nodes subside as well. However, viral infections don’t respond to antibiotics and typically subsides on its own. It might take a couple weeks for lymph nodes to shrink back to their original size.

    Sexually transmitted diseases, like AIDS and syphilis, can also be the cause of swollen lymph nodes. Syphilis responds to antibiotics, so the lymph nodes should subside if your doctor has prescribed medicine for you to take.

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    Side Effects of Medicine

    Although rare, some women might experience swollen lymph nodes as a result of taking certain kinds of prescription medication or getting a vaccination. Vaccines for somewhat obscure diseases, including measles and mumps, can lead to such symptoms, as can medicine used to by seizure patients as a precaution against getting seizures.

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    Cancer

    Sometimes swollen lymph nodes really are a sign of cancer. Variations of Hodgkins’ disease, lymphoma, breast cancer and leukemia all list swollen lymph nodes as a possible symptom.

    However, you won’t only get enlarged lymph nodes in your armpits if this is the case. Your lymph system has nodes located all around the body, including near the neck and in your private parts. Most diseases like this lead to swollen lymph nodes in more than one place, so if yours are only under your arms, you can possibly rule out severe diseases.

    One symptom that helps rule out cancer is pain. The swollen lymph nodes related to lymphoma are generally painless, while those affected by an infection are generally painful and sensitive to the touch.

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    Carding for Swollen Lymph Nodes

    Trying to puncture or relieve liquid from swollen lymph nodes on your own is a bad idea. However, there are ways of relieving the pain as the swelling runs its course.

    • Swallow pain medication: Over-the-counter pain relievers help reduce the pain associated with the inflammation. NSAIDS like Ibuprofen can also work to reduce the inflammation instead of just covering up the pain.
    • Pack with warmth: The Mayo Clinic recommends applying warm, wet compresses to the area every so often to relieve the pain. Also, keep the area clean to prevent further complications with bacteria.
    • Leave them alone: Whenever you pick up your arms, you might feel a painful sensation as the lymph nodes are stretched. Try to rest your limbs – or your whole body – as much as possible while in recovery.
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    References

    Go Ask Alice: What's with the Lumps in My Underarm Area? http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu/2574.html

    Mayo Clinic: Swollen Lymph Nodes Lifestyles and Remedies. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/swollen-lymph-nodes/DS00880/DSECTION=lifestyle-and-home-remedies

    WebMD: Swollen Lymph Nodes. http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/swollen-lymph-nodes-topic-overview