Swollen Glands or Lymph Nodes with Fibromyalgia & ME/CFS

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Lymph nodes or lymph glands

Lymph nodes, or lymph glands, are a key part of the body’s immune system for fighting illness; they’re small pea-shaped protuberances at various points in the body, linked by the lymphatic system. When one of them swells, it’s filling with lymph fluid, a combination of white blood cells and a protein substance called “chyle,” specifically to fight off some immune system issue.

A swollen lymph gland or node indicates that something’s gone a bit awry, so you need to know how to “read” these lumps and what they’re telling you about your body.

Swollen glands

Swollen glands are a fairly common feature of fibromyalgia (FMS), and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) as well. Typically, we associate swollen glands with acute illnesses. They’re a sign that your immune system is working against some kind of pathogen.

It’s fairly normal for them to ache, even in “normal” people, so they’re especially likely to hurt in us because of our low pain thresholds (the point at which sensation becomes painful.) Those feelings of “unwellness” that accompany them probably mean that you’ve picked up some illness, or that your body is having a harder time in the battle against longer-term pathogens.

They’re often a symptom of a chronically active immune system

The “glands” that people refer to are actually lymph nodes, which are little bundles of white nerve cells. In FMS and ME/CFS (possibly more so in ME/CFS), they’re often a symptom of a chronically active immune system – your body is increasing its number of white blood cells to fight off the bug, so the area gets puffed up with them.

However, especially in FMS, they may also be a consequence of what some researchers describe as thick or sluggish bodily fluids. The lymph that would normally pass through seems to get backed up.

Also Read: 10 Measures People with Fibromyalgia Should take in this COVID-19 Epidemic

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We have lymph nodes throughout the body, in the:

  • >Under the jaw & chin
  • >Groin
  • >Armpit
  • >Down both sides of the neck
  • >On either side of the spine on the back of the neck
  • >On either side of the thyroid gland in the front of the neck
  • >Behind the ears
  • >On the back of the head

So if your lymph nodes have started inexplicably popping up like tender mushrooms, here’s what that might mean.

You Have an Infection or A Common Virus

This is the most common cause of swollen lymph glands anywhere on your body: they’re fighting something off. (After a bizarre weekend in which every lymph node on my body decided to puff up like a toad, I went to a doctor in complete confusion, and she assured me that it simply signals the effective functioning of the immune system, likely against something like a bacterial infection or a virus.)

Nodes will swell with lymph fluid in response to a wide variety of invasive problems, from a cold to measles and chickenpox, STDs, staph, or any kind of infection. (Viral infections are distinct from bacterial infections in several ways: bacteria are celled organisms that can survive without a host, while viruses are extraordinarily tiny and dependent on cells to survive.

You’re Extremely Anxious

This is a rare one, but it may be familiar to people with anxiety disorders or a propensity to have panic attacks. There’s a certain kind of circular problem in various kinds of psychologically diagnosed anxiety, particularly those associated with illness anxiety disorders (what we call “hypochondria”), where anxiety lowers the functionality of the immune system, leads to minor viruses or infections, swells the lymph nodes, and therefore leads to more anxiety as the person panics about their ill health.

The capacity of excessive anxiety to suppress the immune system is a well-known phenomenon, but swollen lymph nodes aren’t among the primary physical signs of anxiety in the body; they’re a possible consequence, not a symptom.

You Have Lymphoma

Let’s get this out of the way: it is not likely that a single swollen gland is a sign of lymphoma, a cancer that affects certain lymphatic white blood cells and collects in the lymph nodes. (That’s a rough description. There are two main types of lymphoma, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin, and there are up to 60 subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, so we’re not exactly talking about a uniform disease here.)

Non-Hodkin lymphoma, the more common type, only accounts for four percent of all new cancers in the U.S. every year, and your risk of getting it is about one in 50. So don’t freak out.

Treatment of Swollen Glands or Lymph Nodes

If you have swelling or pressure in the center of your neck, it could be your thyroid gland.  Be sure to get that checked out right away. Swollen lymph nodes don’t require any treatment just because they’re swollen. However, if they’re painful, you have several options for easing the pain:

  • >Heat and/or ice, possibly alternating. Try different combinations to see what helps most.
  • >Ibuprofen, other NSAIDs or other pain medications.
  • >Manual lymph drainage (a type of massage) if it appears to be stagnant lymph.

I get painful, swollen lymph nodes that don’t appear to be connected to immune problems. I can usually tell the difference because, at least for me, immune-related swelling is mildly painful and confined to the site, while stagnant-lymph swelling causes a deeper ache that radiates. I’ve had manual lymph drainage for it, and it can feel really good.

However, sometimes it takes deeper massage than my body can handle. I have to be thorough in communicating with my massage therapist so she knows how much pressure she can use on any given day. I’ve also had cupping, a traditional Chinese treatment that involves suction cups. It’s not as good at relieving the congestion, but it’s less likely to cause pain later, so it’s a good alternative.

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Reference: Swollen Glands or Lymph Nodes with Fibromyalgia & ME/CFS -Are They a Common Problem? by Adriene Dellwo via Verywell Health

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