As a person living in our fast-paced world, you’re likely already aware that stress can play a big role in your body’s overall health. Stress can cause or exacerbate many health conditions — but can stress cause swollen lymph nodes?

If you are experiencing lymph node discomfort, especially in the absence of an illness (such as a cold or influenza) it’s important to investigate the cause as soon as possible. Look at our guide to learn more about lymph nodes and how they may be affected by stress.

Can Stress Cause Swollen Lymph Nodes?

Experts do not think that stress alone can cause swollen lymph nodes. However, you shouldn’t diminish the effects of stress, as they can affect several bodily systems. Consider these wide-ranging effects of stress on the human body:

  • Fatigue, mental agitation, and a feeling of being overwhelmed 
  • Trouble focusing
  • Headaches
  • Loss of libido
  • Anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem
  • Jaw clenching and teeth grinding
  • Increased inflammation
  • Frequent infections

If you notice swollen lymph nodes following a period of stress, it’s always best to contact your provider to schedule an appointment. There are many reasons why your lymph nodes could be swollen, and it’s better to speak with an expert rather than make a guess about the situation.

How Does Stress Affect the Lymphatic System?

“Stress” is a multifaceted term that can include an emotional, psychological, and physical reaction to a stressor. While stress does not directly cause swollen lymph nodes, it can drastically affect other areas of your body.

The consequences of unchecked stress can include more frequent illnesses — which can lead to trouble with your lymphatic system. It’s possible to notice swollen lymph nodes following an infection. If you’re experiencing more frequent colds or minor illnesses, it may seem like your swollen lymph nodes never truly go away.

How Much Stress Is Okay for The Lymphatic System?

If you find yourself worried about the impacts of your stress levels on your lymph nodes or other aspects of your health, it may be time to evaluate your stressors. It’s possible that you are not coping well with the stressors in your life. Everybody copes with stress differently — and what may make you want to run and hide (or take a long vacation) may not affect your friends or family members in the same way.

It’s important to note that not all stress is bad. A good amount of stress, or “eustress” can help your body focus, alert you to potential problems, and drive you toward your goals. If you’re having trouble ascertaining the cause of your stress on your own, it may help you to talk to a mental health professional in addition to your primary care physician.

What Is the Purpose of the Lymph System?

To understand whether stress can cause swollen lymph nodes, it’s important to understand the function and importance of these tiny organs within the context of the overall body.

What Do Lymph Nodes Do?

Lymph nodes are small organs made of lymph tissue that exist in your neck, abdomen, groin, and hundreds of other places throughout your body. Their main functions are as follows:

  • Filtering waste from your body’s lymph fluid, which the nodes collect from the body’s tissues and cells
  • Recycling the lymph fluid that your body will re-use
  • Helping your immune system fight infections

How Do I Know if My Lymph Nodes Are Swollen?

Normally, lymph nodes are tiny. They’re typically about the size of peas, or half an inch long. Because of their small size, and because they’re spread throughout the body, you may not be able to feel them if they’re not inflamed.

When they are swollen, you may notice tenderness, heat, swelling, and pain originating from a specific spot in your body. If you’re recovering from an illness, this physical stress can cause your lymph nodes to swell.

Which Lymph Nodes Swell With Stress?

Your lymph nodes can swell when dealing with physical, rather than emotional or psychological, stress. This could include recovering from an illness, fighting off an infection, or dealing with an injury.

Some autoimmune conditions can also present with swollen lymph nodes. You may notice swollen glands in your neck, under your jaw, under your armpits, or in your groin. As there are hundreds of lymph nodes throughout your body, you could notice swelling in several places.

When Should I Be Worried About Swollen Lymph Nodes?

Can physical stress cause swollen lymph nodes in every situation, or does it indicate something bad like cancer? Rest assured that It’s normal to experience swollen lymph nodes as your body fights off a viral or bacterial infection. However, you may worry about a period of prolonged swelling.

A specific type of cancer called lymphoma (a designator that includes both non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma) starts in the lymph system and can spread. Fortunately, swollen lymph nodes do not often indicate cancer. In 2023, for example, only 4.1% of new cancer cases were diagnosed as non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

There are situations unrelated to cancer when you should worry about swollen lymph nodes. Make an appointment with your provider if your lymph nodes are:

  • Swollen but you are not sick (and have not been sick recently)
  • Stiff, rubbery, hard, or painful to the touch
  • Growing larger or more painful
  • Occur with fevers, weight loss, or night sweats
  • Have lasted for more than four weeks
  • Cause difficulty in breathing or swallowing (this is an emergency and requires immediate medical attention)

It’s important to understand that your lymphatic system is always working — and this could mean that the swelling doesn’t return to normal immediately after you feel well. If anything seems abnormal to you about the way your lymph nodes feel or look, it’s important to see a doctor sooner rather than later.

Can Stress Cause Swollen Lymph Nodes? Contact Us for an Evaluation

At Arizona Premier Surgery, we strive to put our patients’ concerns first, and we understand that stress can cause unexpected changes in the body. If you’re experiencing troubling symptoms, or if you’re wondering whether stress can cause swollen lymph nodes, schedule an appointment with us as soon as possible. We look forward to helping you find the cause of your discomfort and treating it as efficiently as possible.