Meet Your Lymph Nodes
Why they’re crucial
The Lymphatic Road Trip
• Think of your lymphatic system as a highway of one-way lanes (lymphatic vessels) on which fluid full of immune cells is pushed through your torso, limbs, and extremities.
• Along the way are 600 “tollbooths”— pea-size, bean-shaped glands called lymph nodes that house more disease-fighting cells.
• Where does the fluid called lymph come from? Your lymphatic system runs alongside your circulatory system—each time your blood finishes one lap throughout the body, 1% of its fluid is left behind in your tissues. This is absorbed by nearby lymph capillaries and becomes lymph, which then does its own lap through the body via the lymphatic vessels.
• While on the move, lymph’s immune cells scan for intruders. When your body detects a threat—a bacterium or a virus—it triggers an increase in the number of disease-fighting cells in the node in an effort to thwart the infection.
• Once lymph passes through the nodes, it continues its trip until it reaches its destination: the lymphatic duct, a big vessel near the heart. There, it reenters the circulatory system and the process begins again.
Know Your Nodes
Lymph nodes are clustered all over your body but are most prominent in your neck, armpits, and groin. That’s why you may feel a small, firm lump when you’re sick. Don’t stress: A swollen lymph node is most commonly a sign that your immune system is working to clear your body of infection. It swells due to an increase in immune cells and should return to normal within two weeks. On occasion, an enlarged node may signal a more serious problem such as an immune issue, a medication reaction, or (rarely) cancer—if a node is rock-hard and larger than a half-inch in diameter and stays that way for more than two weeks, call your doctor.
Keep Your Lymphatic System Happy
Unlike blood, which is pumped body-wide with help from the heart, lymph relies on muscle contraction to propel it on its journey. That means you’ve gotta move. Aim for 30 minutes of daily activity, and try yoga: The deep breathing it employs may support lymph flow.