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Enlarged Lymph Nodes in the Armpit

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Last updated June 11, 2022

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What are enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit?

Lymph nodes are the glands in your body that contain the cells of the immune system. The lymph nodes filter out bacteria and viruses. When you have a virus, such as a cold or flu, or another infection, the lymph nodes drain your system and help fight the infection. When this happens, the lymph nodes swell, which can make them painful. Swelling can be small—about the size of a pea—or large.

Enlarged, painful lymph nodes are usually caused by a viral infection or from a local bacterial infection on the skin near the lymph nodes.

Symptoms you may also have:

In rare cases, enlarged lymph nodes may be due to an autoimmune disease. Or the cause may be a mystery. Enlarged lymph nodes can also be a sign of cancer. But when it’s from cancer, the lymph nodes are usually not painful.


Enlarged lymph nodes caused by infections go away on their own when the infection is gone or within a couple of weeks. To speed up the process, try applying a warm, wet compress to the affected area.

If the cause is cancer, the enlarged bump will not go away on its own. See your doctor about any enlarged lymph node that does not go away in several weeks.

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Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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