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Lumps and Swellings

Lumps and swellings under the skin, particularly in the neck, under the arms, or in the groin, are often enlarged lymph nodes (glands). These glands usually become swollen due to an infection. The swelling subsides shortly after the infection clears up. If the lumps are painful or if they are persistent but painless, you should consult your doctor.

  • What are the characteristics of the lump or swelling?

    • Red and painful
      • Possible cause An abscess or a boil may be the cause of a painful, inflamed swelling.

        Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

    • Other

      Are the lumps or swellings in more than one area?

      • One area only

        Where is the lump or swelling?

        • Testis
        • Groin

          What happens to the swelling if you press on it or if you lie down?

          • It disappears
            • Possible cause You may have an inguinal hernia (see Hernias).

              Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

          • It reduces in size
            • Possible cause You may have an inguinal hernia (see Hernias).

              Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

          • No change
            • Possible cause A trapped inguinal hernia (see Hernias) could be responsible for the swelling.

              Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

        • Breast
        • Sides or back of neck

          Do you have a sore throat?

          • Sore throat
          • No sore throat

            Do you have a recent injury near the site of the swelling?

            • Injury
              • Possible causes An injury is likely to cause some swelling as a result of damage to the tissues. An infected wound or a localized rash can also cause nearby lymph nodes to swell (see Lymphadenopathy).

                Self-help Make sure the wound is clean and protect it with an adhesive bandage or light dressing. Consult your doctor if there is any pain, redness, or pus around the wound, or if the swelling persists after the wound has healed.

            • No injury
              • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your lumps or swellings from this chart, make an appointment to see your doctor.

        • Other

          Do you have a recent injury near the site of the swelling?

          • Injury
            • Possible causes An injury is likely to cause some swelling as a result of damage to the tissues. An infected wound or a localized rash can also cause nearby lymph nodes to swell (see Lymphadenopathy).

              Self-help Make sure the wound is clean and protect it with an adhesive bandage or light dressing. Consult your doctor if there is any pain, redness, or pus around the wound, or if the swelling persists after the wound has healed.

          • No injury
            • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your lumps or swellings from this chart, make an appointment to see your doctor.

      • Several areas

        Do you have a fever – a temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above?

        • Fever

          Do you have a rash?

          • Rash
            • Possible causes A number of viral illnesses can cause swollen glands and a rash. Lyme disease is another possibility, particularly if you think you may have been bitten by a tick recently.

              Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

          • No rash
            • Possible cause Infectious mononucleosis is a possible cause of swelling of the lymph nodes in several areas, especially if you feel generally unwell.

              Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

        • No fever
          • Possible causes A viral infection is the most likely cause. There is also a possibility of a cancer of the lymphatic system (see Lymphoma) or an AIDS-related illness (see HIV infection and AIDS).

            Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

Warning

Painless lumps or swellings

Any painless lump or swelling that does not disappear within 2 weeks should be seen by a doctor.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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