Can lymph nodes swell from stress?

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In this blog we will answer the question: “Can lymph nodes swell from stress?” 

We will also seek to understand what are the symptoms of a swollen lymph node, other causes that lead to swollen lymph nodes, and what stress management is. 

Can lymph nodes swell from stress?

Yes, it is possible that lymph nodes can swell from high levels of chronic stress. 

According to M.Wack for better help, when the body is under stress or stressed caused by an infection- the lymph nodes can swell and become larger than usual, more tender to touch accompanied with other symptoms of ill health. 

However, most experts believe that there is no direct link between stress and the nodes swelling. It is unclear how stress impacts the body’s immune system, however there is rough research that links the two negatively. 

This means that when an individual is under severe stress, the immune system is impacted- the individual might have a weaker immune system susceptible to infections leading to swollen lymph nodes especially when other physical symptoms of stress are present. 

A meta analysis describing a relationship between psychological stress and the immune system in human participants found that when stressors were acute the body reacts as it would under temorapy stress- the flight or fight system is activated and the body gets ready for possible infection or injury or both. 

The finding of this particular study could explain how and why lymph nodes swell when under stress. Because the person’s cortisol levels are higher due to stress- the body believes it is under threat and hence prepares for a possible need for recovery due to which the lymph nodes swell as it normally would when the individual is infected.

The researchers also noted that this sudden reaction of the immune system happens when the individual is under sudden stress as opposed to chronic stress. Sudden stressors include trauma and loss/bereavement. 

 Due to a lowered immune system, the body may also be more likely to experience mild illnesses which lead to the associated swollen lymph.

What are the symptoms of a swollen lymph node?

A swollen lymph node is a sign that your body is unwell or it has been affected by an infection. 

Tenderness and pain in the lymph nodes is one of the main indications of an infection or a disease and unusually the swelling that may be the size of a pea or kidney bean, or even larger in the lymph nodes.

Other signs and symptoms you might have along with the swollen lymph node depending on the condition include:

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Fever 
  • Pain around the areas of lymph nodes
  • Other symptoms of an upper respiratory infection
  • General swelling of lymph nodes throughout your body.
  • Hard, fixed, rapidly growing nodes
  • Night sweats

What are the other causes that lead to swollen lymph nodes?

The common cause of swollen lymph nodes is an infection of the body. Most particularly a viral infection, such as the common cold (MayoClinic).

Other possible causes of swollen lymph nodes include:

  • Strep throat
  • Measles
  • Ear infections
  • Infected (abscessed) tooth
  • Mononucleosis
  • Skin or wound infections, such as cellulitis
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) — the virus that causes AIDS
  • Uncommon infections
  • Tuberculosis
  • Certain sexually transmitted infections, such as syphilis
  • Toxoplasmosis 
  • Cat scratch fever 
  • Immune system disorders
  • Lymphoma 
  • Leukaemia 
  • Other cancers that have spread (metastasized) to lymph nodes
  • In rare cases, medications.

What are the other symptoms of stress?

Stress is our natural response to the demands around us. 

Stress is actually a good thing since it motivates us to access and act and it serves as a defence against dangers and predators. Thus, it has a positive impact on us at a healthy level. 

However, in today’s day and age we are less likely to be affected by a predator. Stress arises when we are unable to meet the demands of our day to day lives. 

That is, when we exhaust our mental, emotional, and physical resources to  execute the demands of our jobs, relationships, as well as meet our needs

Here are some other symptoms that are related to high stress and anxiety. These symptoms can present differently, and symptoms may vary from person to person:

Physical symptoms of stress 

Physical symptoms of anxiety can include fatigue, lethargy, unexplained or persistent physical pain, muscle tension, soreness, swollen lymph nodes (MedicalNewsToday).

The individual might experience these symptoms even if they have not done anything strenuous- they might feel very exhausted and experience pain without a clear cause such as swelling or soreness(MedicalNewsToday).

Psychological symptoms of stress

Stress also has a variety of mental and behavioural symptoms. These symptoms include: insomnia,  trouble sleeping, excessive sleep, and changes in appetite and eating habits. 

A person who is in extreme stress might also appear to be  irritable, and engage in excessive worrying, nervousness, feelings of impending dread or doom, loss of interest in usual activities leading to mental disorders and strain in their professional and personal lives. 

What is stress management?

Stress management, in simple words, refers to the techniques and strategies that one applies to their lifestyle as a way to effectively deal with stress. 

The process of stress management involves identifying the stressor and recognising the effects stress has on one’s life, taking positive action to minimise the effects of the stressors, as well as evaluate and improve strategies to manage stress.

The aim of stress management is not to become stress free but rather manage stress effectively such that the negative effects of stress do not affect quality of life. 

According to the American Psychological Association, managing stress involves the following:

  • Understanding what stress is and how one engages with stressors. 
  • Identifying stressors in one’s life. 
  • Being able to recognise stress signals form one’s body, emotions, thoughts, and behaviours. 
  • Recognizing patterns of strategies and behaviours that one engages in when stressed- whether they are unhealthy or healthy. 
  • Replacing unhealthy strategies with healthier options or improving old helpful strategies with more helpful ones including making self-care a priority and seeking out support when needed. 

How to Manage Stress effectively?

Managing stress can be done individually as well as with assistance from a mental health professional. 

Treatments to manage stress include:

  • Self-help lifestyle changes in diet, exercise, activities, and relationships. 
  • Therapy and counselling which help people develop self awareness and also help them make lifestyle changes that can help them manage stress.
  • Medication , though doctors will not usually prescribe medications for coping with stress, unless they are treating an underlying mental health condition that is causing the stress. 

Lifestyle changes that can help manage stress includes:

  • Exercise including engaging in breathing and relaxation medication and techniques to slow down heart rate and promote rest. 
  • Reducing the intake of alcohol, drugs, and caffeine
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet containing plenty of fruit and vegetables can help maintain the immune system at times of stress. 
  • Organising a daily to-do list and focusing on urgent or time sensitive tasks instead of doing everything- this involves learning how to prioritise things. 
  • Organising  schedules to give themselves time to  relax, and pursue their own interests.
  • Sharing feelings and burdens with family, friends, as well as professionals to help vent as well as gain solutions. 
  • Another thing that a person can do to manage stress is to acknowledge the signs of anxiety and depression, or lack of motivation. It is important to be mindful of any changes.
  • Taking a step back and reviewing their working conditions and demands in their workplace with their supervisor and finding ways to reduce the load of their work.

Conclusion

In this blog we will answer the question: “Can lymph nodes swell from stress?” 

We will also seek to understand what are the symptoms of a swollen lymph node, other causes that lead to swollen lymph nodes, and what stress management is. 

FAQ related to Can lymph nodes swell from stress?

Can lymph nodes swell from anxiety?

Yes, it is possible that lymph nodes can swell from high levels of anxiety. 

According to M.Wack for better help, when the body is under stress or stressed caused by anxiety – the lymph nodes can swell and become larger than usual, more tender to touch accompanied with other symptoms of ill health.  

Most experts believe that there is no direct link between stress and the nodes swelling. It is unclear how stress impacts the body’s immune system, however there is research that links the two together. 

Experts believe that this swelling is caused when the body reacts to stress as it would under temorapy stress- the flight or fight system is activated and the body gets ready for possible infection or injury or both. 

What is stress?

Stress is our natural emotional response to the demands around us. 

Stress is actually a good thing since it motivates us to access and act and it serves as a defence against dangers and predators. Thus, it has a positive impact on us at a healthy level. 

However, in today’s day and age we are less likely to be affected by a predator. Stress arises when we are unable to meet the demands of our day to day lives. 

Can lymph nodes swell for no reason?

Lymph nodes usually swell for a particular reason- an infection. Usually, swollen lymph nodes aren’t a reason to worry because they’re simply a sign that your immune system is fighting an infection or illness which are mild. 

However if you start to notice the swelling to be persistent and are becoming hardened, you do need to consult with your doctor.

Can stress cause lumps on the neck?

Anxiety and stress can also cause lumps on the neck due to swollen lymph nodes or due to muscle tension in one’s neck. 

How to regulate stress?

Here are a few things u can do to manage stress:

  • Being able to recognise stress signals from one’s body, emotions, thoughts, and behaviours. 
  • Recognizing patterns of strategies and behaviours that one engages in when stressed- whether they are unhealthy or healthy. 
  • Replacing unhealthy strategies with healthier options or improving old helpful strategies with more helpful ones including making self-care a priority and seeking out support when needed. 

References

Brown.A. 62 Stress Management Techniques, Strategies & Activities. Positive psychology. Retrieved on 4th March 2022. https://positivepsychology.com/stress-management-techniques-tips-burn-out/

Why stress happens and how to manage it? MedicalNewsToday. Retrieved on  4th March 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/145855

M.Wack. Can Stress Cause Swollen Lymph Nodes? BetterHelp. Retrieved on 4th March 2022. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/stress/can-stress-cause-swollen-lymph-nodes/

Swollen lymph nodes. MayoClinic. Retrieved on 4th march 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/swollen-lymph-nodes/symptoms-causes/syc-20353902

Renzi C, Vadilonga V, Gandini S, et al. Stress Exposure in Significant Relationships Is Associated with Lymph Node Status in Breast Cancer. PLoS One. 2016;11(2):e0149443. Published 2016 Feb 24. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0149443

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