Lumps Under the Armpit – Managing Swelling of Lymph Glands Underarm

Lumps in the Underarm Region

Lumps under the arm (axilla) may arise from various causes. They are produced by an enlargement of the lymph nodes underarm, secondary to a primary cause.  So they are basically swollen glands. The primary cause may be a bacterial infection, viral infection, antigenic stimulation (as from vaccinations), or malignancy.

Common Causes of Enlarged Axillary Glands

  • Bacterial infections
  • Cat scratch disease
  • Ascending lymphangitis
  • Lymphadenitis
  • Axillary adenopathy
  • Localized infection, possibly somewhere in the arm
  • Subcutaneous abscesses
  • Viral
  • Infectious mononucleosis
  • Chickenpox
  • Herpes zoster (shingles)
  • HIV disease (AIDS)
  • Malignancy, like breast cancer in women: Lymph nodes are filters that can catch malignant tumor cells or infectious organisms. When they do, lymph nodes increase in size and are easily felt.
  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Leukemia
  • Fungal
  • Sporotrichosis
  • Antigenic exposure
  • Smallpox vaccination
  • Typhoid vaccine
  • Measles, mumps, rubella vaccine (rare)
  • Allergic reaction possibly caused by sulfa drugs, iodine, or penicillin
  • Lipomas (harmless fatty growths)
  • Benign cyst
  • Normal breast tissue (breast tissue extends into the armpit area)

One condition commonly seen in teenagers has a big fancy name called hidradenitis suppurativa, and it’s an inflammation and infection of the sweat glands, usually in the armpits or groin area.

Cysts and superficial infections of the underarm skin may follow shaving or use of antiperspirants (as compared to deodorants). This occurs most frequently in adolescents just beginning to shave.

Treatment for Lumps in the Armpit

  • Check with your doctor to determine the nature of the lump. Swellings due to infections are usually painful. Treatment depends upon the cause of the swollen nodes.
  • For a lump in the underarm area caused by an infected painful gland, follow the instructions about the proper treatment for the underlying infection.
  • An enlarged gland caused by a generalized viral infection will eventually disappear without therapy.
  • A lump in the armpit caused by an allergic reaction will go away after the provoking substance is removed.
  • Usually no treatment is necessary for a cyst.
  • A swelling under the arm caused by a lipoma (fatty growth) is harmless, unless it grows so large that it causes discomfort.

What to Expect at Your Health Care Provider’s Office?

  • The medical history will be obtained and a physical examination performed.
  • Medical history questions documenting an armpit lump in detail may include:
  • Time pattern
  • When did you first notice the lump?
  • Is it getting better, worse, or staying the same?
  • Aggravating factors
  • Have you noticed any factors that make it worse?
  • What other symptoms are also present?
  • Is the lymph node painful?
  • The physical examination may include palpation (gently pressing the nodes) of the lymph system.

In general, infections are high on the list if there is a tenderness or soreness of the swelling. In that case, small incision and drainage along with antibiotics may be required.

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