Armpit Swelling

Facts about Lymph Glands in the Armpit Swelling

The symptom of armpit swelling is often attributed to a problem with the lymph glands.  While it is often associated with adolescents entering puberty, it can also be a problem with adults as well.  Swelling can be a rather minor matter, or can be a serious concern.

The scientific name for the simple swelling of lymph glands in the armpit is axillary lymphandeopathy.  Swelling that is accompanied by pain and tenderness is referred to as axillary lymphadenitis.  This enlargement of the glands is often caused by infection or an inflammation, and one of the most common areas for this condition is in the armpit.

Lymph nodes, often called glands, are strategically placed throughout the human body. They play a vital role in the immune system, as they contain white blood cells which fight infection in the body.  A clear fluid called lymph, present everywhere in the body, flows passively through the system and keeps cells awash with various nutrients and water that they would otherwise not be able to receive.  Lymph obtains its oxygen, nutrients and water from blood, which leaks it through the walls of the capillaries.  This clear fluid is circulated through the body totally by muscle and body movements, ending up in lymph nodes where it can be processed and cleared of impurities before continuing in the recirculation.

The filtering process that the lymph nodes provide is useful in capturing bacteria collected by the white blood cells.  Sometimes, when battling certain types of bacterial infections, these nodes become enlarged; filled with bacteria and the cells fighting them.  Resulting in armpit swelling when the nodes under the arm are involved, these enlargements can be easily felt; letting you know that an infection exists.  The swelling can occur rapidly, and may include pain when touched.

In addition to swelling and tenderness, individuals may experience other symptoms such as fever, chills and headache.   These symptoms are also indicative of the human body’s defense mechanism taking over and trying to eradicate the bacteria causing the infection.  Regardless of the symptoms that an individual has, any armpit swelling should immediately be brought to the attention of a medical professional.

Besides internal infections, there could be other causes for swelling in the armpit.  Some vaccinations could result in enlargement of lymph glands.  The swelling or lump could be caused a surface infection resulting from shaving or from the use of an antiperspirant.  This condition is most often experienced by early teens that are just beginning to shave.  A condition that any age group can encounter is an abscess of the skin; again, the body’s immune system rushes to the rescue and walls up the area where the infection is found.  Pus forms as cells, bacteria and tissue collects within the walls, forming an abscess that presents itself as a painful, inflamed swelling.


Armpit swelling can also be a symptom of breast cancer.  Usually when this is the case, the swelling is slow and steady with no pain.  This risk of any swelling being related to cancer is the main reason for obtaining a quick and accurate diagnosis, even for men.  After a visual examination, a biopsy of the lump by a licensed pathologist will be ordered.  The first biopsy will likely be a needle aspiration, followed if needed by a core biopsy.  In almost all cases, the lump will be surgically removed.

Since swelling in the armpit can be either a minor inconvenience or a serious concern, it is important to receive a diagnosis from a medical doctor as soon as possible.  Anything that disrupts the normal cycle of the lymph glands and the immune system requires a close look.