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Can Psoriasis Cause Swollen Lymph Nodes?

Posted on September 06, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D.
Article written by
Amanda Jacot, PharmD

Lymph nodes are small, circular or bean-shaped organs that play an important role in the immune system. Sometimes, if your body is trying to fight off an illness or infection, your lymph nodes might swell, which can cause concern among people with psoriasis.

“I have swollen lymph nodes in the collarbone and neck area,” one MyPsoriasisTeam member wrote. “Can these be caused by the body reacting to my psoriasis?”

If you’re wondering about a possible link between swollen lymph nodes and psoriatic disease, read on to see what the research says.

What Are Lymph Nodes?

Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system, a complex network of tissues, vessels, and organs that filter foreign invaders and waste from the lymphatic fluid. There are about 600 lymph nodes located throughout the body. The lymph nodes that people commonly feel are located:

  • On both sides of the neck
  • Under the jaw
  • In the armpits
  • Around the groin

Swollen lymph nodes, also called lymphadenopathy, occur during your body’s normal response to an infection or illness. There are two types of lymphadenopathy — localized and generalized. Localized lymphadenopathy is most common and usually occurs close to the site of the infection. Generalized lymphadenopathy involves two or more groups of lymph nodes and is usually caused by an illness that affects the whole body.

About 600 lymph nodes are located throughout the body. If a lymph node swells, it may feel tender or painful. (Adobe Stock)

How Do Causes of Swollen Lymph Nodes Relate to Psoriasis?

Lymph nodes are made up of white blood cells called lymphocytes. An illness or infection can raise the number of lymphocytes in the lymph node and cause swelling and inflammation. When lymph nodes are swollen, you may notice tenderness or pain in that area, though sometimes they can be painless.

Not much research focuses on psoriasis and swollen lymph nodes, but several causes of swollen lymph nodes could be related to psoriasis and treatments for psoriasis.

Infection

Infection is the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes. Symptoms that may accompany swollen lymph nodes due to infection include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

Not only does having psoriasis increase your risk of infection, but biologic medications used to treat the condition may also raise the risk.

In addition, viruses like the common cold can trigger psoriasis flares and swollen lymph nodes at the same time. You might also experience swollen lymph nodes from bacterial, parasitic, or fungal infections.

Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune diseases cause the body to attack its own healthy tissues, resulting in inflammation. Autoimmune disease can cause lymph node swelling in two ways — by increasing widespread inflammation and by raising your risk of other infections.

Autoimmune diseases that may cause swollen lymph nodes include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Scleroderma
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Sjögren’s syndrome

Symptoms that may accompany swollen lymph nodes due to autoimmune disease include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Rash

Because psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, it can lead to swollen lymph nodes by causing inflammation and increasing your risk of infection.

Cancer

Several types of cancer can cause swollen lymph nodes, such as:

  • Leukemia
  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Other cancers that have spread to the lymph nodes

Symptoms that may accompany swollen lymph nodes due to cancer include:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss

People living with psoriasis have a significantly higher risk of developing lymphoma, especially cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The risk of lymphoma does not seem to be as high with psoriatic arthritis (PsA): In a 2020 study, researchers reported that PsA was not linked to increased lymphoma risk.

Studies show treating psoriasis with phototherapy — also known as light therapy — can increase the risk of skin cancer, which could spread to lymph nodes.

Medication

Lymph nodes can become swollen as a side effect of medication. Drugs that have been associated with swollen lymph nodes include the following:

  • Allopurinol (Zyloprim)
  • Atenolol (Tenormin)
  • Hydralazine (Apresoline)
  • Penicillins
  • Phenytoin (Dilantin)
  • Sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (Bactrim)

In addition, medications used to treat psoriasis may cause swollen lymph nodes by raising the risk of infection or cancers such as lymphoma. High doses of methotrexate (Trexall) have been linked to an increased risk of developing lymphoma.

Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) inhibitors can decrease your ability to fight infections, leading to swollen lymph nodes. However, recent studies have found that there is no increased risk of lymphoma in people taking TNF-alpha inhibitors.

In addition, vaccines can cause temporary lymph node swelling near the site of the vaccination.

How Can You Check for Swollen Lymph Nodes?

Lymph nodes are located symmetrically on both sides of the body. You can check your lymph nodes by gently feeling the area, moving your fingertips in a circular motion. An enlarged lymph node may feel firm and about the size of a grape or pea.

Your doctor may examine your neck for swollen lymph nodes, which may feel firm to the touch.
(Adobe Stock)

What Should You Do if You Notice Swollen Lymph Nodes?

Swollen lymph nodes usually go back to normal when the underlying cause, such as an infection, gets better. You should contact a health care professional if you don’t know the cause of the swelling, if the swelling doesn’t leave after two weeks, or if you have other symptoms such as a fever that doesn’t go away, night sweats, or unexplained weight loss.

Your health care provider can do a physical exam to diagnose swollen lymph nodes. Taking a small amount of lymph node tissue to look at under a microscope, called a biopsy, can help reveal the cause of a swollen lymph node. Other medical or imaging tests, including blood tests, ultrasound, and MRI, may be used to help determine a diagnosis.

You may be able to reduce the symptoms of swollen lymph nodes by:

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Getting rest
  • Taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help with pain
  • Applying a warm compress

If you are concerned about whether your lymph node swelling might be related to psoriasis, talk with your dermatologist. They can evaluate your situation and ensure that you are on the right treatment program to ease your symptoms.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 110,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis.

Are you living with psoriasis? Have you ever noticed swollen lymph nodes? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

References
  1. Lymph Nodes — Cleveland Clinic
  2. Lymphatic System — Cleveland Clinic
  3. Lymphadenopathy: Differential Diagnosis and Evaluation — American Family Physician
  4. Swollen Lymph Nodes — Cleveland Clinic
  5. Lymphocytes — Cleveland Clinic
  6. Unexplained Lymphadenopathy: Evaluation and Differential Diagnosis — American Family Physician
  7. A Nationwide Population-Based Cohort Study of the Incidence of Severe and Rare Infections Among Adults With Psoriasis in Denmark — British Journal of Dermatology
  8. Respiratory Virus Infection Triggers Acute Psoriasis Flares Across Different Clinical Subtypes and Genetic Backgrounds — British Journal of Dermatology
  9. Lymphatic Function in Autoimmune Diseases — Frontiers in Immunology
  10. Autoimmunity as a Predisposition for Infectious Diseases — PLOS Pathogens
  11. Risk of Lymmphohematologic Malignancies in Patients With Chronic Plaque Psoriasis: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis — Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology
  12. Prevalence, Incidence, and Risk of Cancer in Patients With Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis — JAMA Dermatology
  13. Malignancy Risk and Recurrence With Psoriasis and Its Treatments: A Concise Update — American Journal of Clinical Dermatology
  14. The DRESS Syndrome: A Literature Review — The American Journal of Medicine
  15. Lymphoma Risk in Psoriasis: Results of the PUVA Follow-Up Study — Archives of Dermatology
  16. Biologics — National Psoriasis Foundation
  17. How To Check Your Lymph Nodes — NHS
  18. Lymph Node Biopsy — MedlinePlus
  19. Swollen Glands — NHS
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D. is an internal medicine and rheumatology specialist. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Amanda Jacot, PharmD earned a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2009 and a Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Texas College of Pharmacy in 2014. Learn more about her here.

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