Aggravating lymph nodes givin' me grief
November 19, 2012 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Stiff neck, painful armpits, looking for some advice on what's happening with my lymph node system.

I've been having this issue for a few years now, often when I get a tired and stressed out my lymph nodes in my neck and armpits will start aching. Sometimes it doesn't seem connected to being worn down, but I'm easily worn down so that's hard to track. I'll usually first notice it when my neck feels stiff, sometimes shooting pains in my armpits. They don't get noticeably large or swollen, it subsides after 3 to 7 days.

I have seen a doctor, sonogrammed the nodes and did blood tests, but nothing really showed up. Got mostly a shoulder shrugged "welp, dunno".

I can roughly place this as starting up after I had mono years ago, but I'm not sure if there's any correlation. The doctor said mono doesn't do this. I'm assuming it's some sort of infection, but how do I figure out which one, what should I be pestering the doctor for?

(According to the internets, I have the black plague.)
posted by Dynex to Health & Fitness (7 answers total)
I am about as far as you can get from a doctor, so please don't consider this to be medical advice.

When I get stressed and run down, my lymph nodes get swollen and achey as you describe (mostly in my neck). This doesn't strike me as a particular illness to be diagnosed and treated. Rather, I figure that bodies are not really built to function perfectly when tired and stressed for extended periods. There are limits to what they can happily endure.

When I notice this happening, I treat my body as though I'm getting sick -- because, really, I am. My immune system is weak because I'm not taking care of myself. So I get plenty of rest, eat well, drink lots of water, and dose up on echinacea, zinc, and vitamin c. Once I've babied myself for a couple of days, things return to normal and I make a mental note to minimize my stress level. (Then I do it again in a few months.)

So, you might want to talk to your doctor about whether this is a maintenance/lifestyle issue to be addressed rather than an illness/disorder to be medicated.
posted by cranberry_nut at 8:54 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

That happens to me as well, along with a low grade fever. I have chronic/reoccurring mono. It only happens when I am stressed out. When I feel a flare up coming on, I take it very easy for a few days. If I don't then it's months of being pretty sick. Along with stress, other things that bring it on are allergies, food sensitivities, and chemical sensitivities. Things that help are yoga, acupuncture, drinking lots of water, avoiding preservatives and the above mentioned triggers, and meditation.
posted by myselfasme at 9:36 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

This page from the Mayo Clinic says that mono can become a chronic/recurrent condition, though rarely.

And that when it does reactivate, the Epstein-Barr virus can be detected in your saliva, but I don't know whether that's become the basis for an available test.
posted by jamjam at 9:40 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah it's quite unusual so I am not surprised that your physician isn't familiar with it, but here is some other information about recurrent mononucleosis that might be useful to you.

The thing is, if it is recurrent mono, there's not much your doctor can do for you either in the way of diagnostic testing or for treatment. As jamjam noted, you can get EBV testing that comes back positive again, but even if it's negative, the test isn't that reliable, and since there is no change in management with the testing, it's not exactly a great use of healthcare dollars . The article linked above suggests that it may be self-limiting and improve after some period of years. IANYD. Hope that is useful!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:48 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had this back in my late teens and 20s. I never had mono. For me it would start in one lymph node in my neck and ache for a few days, then move on to another one for a few days and so on, until it had hit each one in turn and I'd been feeling bad for a few weeks.

Whenever this struck, I would be very careful to apply heat to the sore node, usually a heating pad on low. It eased the aching a little, but didn't make it go away.

I don't know why, but one day the aching started and instead of heat I decided to try applying cold. After about half an hour of intermittent ice pack application, the aching stopped, and it did not move around to any other lymph nodes that time. I got an ache a couple more times after that, but the ice pack stopped it each time very quickly and then a few years later I realized I hadn't had any problem with it.

During the years I was afflicted with this my doctor ran every test she could think of, and nothing ever came back positive. Again, I definitely never had mono.
posted by Brody's chum at 11:11 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

My wife just went through a very similar set of symptoms for a long time, and figured out on her own that she is probably gluten intolerant. After switching to a gluten-free diet, her symptoms got a lot better starting in the space of a few days. Now when she accidentally eats something that contains gluten, she knows within a few hours mainly due to the return of the lymph node swelling. Gluten can also make you feel run down if you're intolerant, so that might be the correlation with those times.
posted by tkolstee at 3:39 PM on November 24, 2012

Thanks everyone! I do have some chemical sensitiveness, and I've been off gluten for 3 years now. I'll keep trying to be nice to myself and not overstress, doesn't sound like there's more of a solution then that.
posted by Dynex at 2:53 PM on December 2, 2012

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