Mesenteric lymphadenitis

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at April 28, 2016
StartDiseasesMesenteric lymphadenitis

Mesenteric lymphadenitis is a lymph node inflammation that results in abdominal pain and other minor symptoms. It generally is not too serious, but the complications of mesenteric lymphadenitis can be severe. Therefore, it is necessary to seek medical help if a person thinks he or she may have the condition.


Definition & Facts

Lymphadenitis is any sort of condition that occurs when the lymph nodes, which are clusters of tissue all over the body that fight off foreign invaders, become inflamed. The mesentery is a membranous tissue that attaches the intestines to the abdominal wall of the torso, and this important tissue keeps the intestines from becoming twisted within the abdominal cavity.

When the lymph nodes of the mesentery get inflamed, mesenteric lymphadenitis occurs. Mesenteric lymphadenitis often mimics the symptoms of appendicitis but it is rarely a serious illness. Instead, most people with mesenteric lymphadenitis end up recovering from this condition without medical intervention.

Symptoms & Complaints

Often, a respiratory tract infection is the first sign of mesenteric lymphadenitis, and this symptom will cause a sore throat to occur. Next, people with mesenteric lymphadenitis will began to feel general abdominal tenderness and soreness. This will turn into a pain that is normally centered around the right, lower portion of the torso, but the pain associated with mesenteric lymphadenitis can occur across the entire abdominal region.

The inflammation of the mesentery can also result in a moderate or high grade fever. Abdominal pain and fevers are the two most common symptoms, but people with mesenteric lymphadenitis can also have gastrointestinal upset, including diarrhea, bloating, nausea, and vomiting. This is often accompanied by a general feeling of illness, fatigue, and weakness.

If the lymph nodes are infected, the infection can travel to the bloodstream, resulting in the rare mesenteric lymphadenitis complication of sepsis. People with sepsis will experience confusion, delirium, fast heart rates, dizziness, chills, shortness of breath, and many other severe symptoms. People who have mesenteric lymphadenitis that results in sepsis require emergency medical attention.


If the lymph nodes of the mesentery are inflamed, it is usually caused by an underlying health condition. Infections are the most common type of health condition that causes mesenteric lymphadenitis. These infections may be from parasites, bacteria, or viruses, and they can occur anywhere in the body. While the lymph nodes are trying to fight the infection, they can end up becoming sore and swollen.

The most common infection that causes mesenteric lymphadenitis is gastroenteritis or stomach flu, but the other infections that can lead to mesenteric lymphadenitis include salmonella, staphylococcus, tuberculosis, Whipple disease, HIV, yersinia enterocolitica, and streptococcus.

Since the primary issue in mesenteric lymphadenitis is inflammation, health conditions related to inflammatory disorders are often linked to mesenteric lymphadenitis. Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's disease, inflammation of the pancreas, or inflammation of the large intestine lining can all cause mesenteric lymphadenitis.

Health conditions linked to autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, can also cause the lymph nodes of the mesentery to become inflamed. In rare cases, inflamed lymph nodes in the mesentery can be caused by cancers, such as gastrointestinal cancer, lymphomas, or pancreatic cancer.

Diagnosis & Tests

Often, the pain associated with mesenteric lymphadenitis is mild and clears up quickly, so some people may not even go to a doctor or get the condition diagnosed. However, severe or sudden abdominal pain in conjunction with a fever can be caused by many dangerous conditions, so it is important to have a healthcare professional rule out those problems while diagnosing mesenteric lymphadenitis.

Many tests associated with mesenteric lymphadenitis are primarily tests to confirm that no other conditions may be causing the pain centered in the abdominal area. These tests include a urine test to rule out a urinary tract infection, and imaging tests like CT scans and ultrasounds which can be used to make sure the organs of the gastrointestinal area are healthy.

Once severe conditions like appendicitis are rule out by imaging tests, a doctor will often diagnose mesenteric lymphadenitis, especially if a medical history exam reveals that the patient previously had one of the infections or health conditions linked to mesenteric lymphadenitis. A blood test will reveal the high white blood cell count that frequently occurs with mesenteric lymphadenitis, so it can be used to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment & Therapy

Often, the symptoms of mesenteric lymphadenitis end up going away on their own without any other type of medical intervention. However, if the inflammation of the lymph nodes in the mesentery is caused by a severe bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. It is very important to take any antibiotics prescribed during an outbreak of mesenteric lymphadenitis, because they prevent the sepsis complications that could otherwise be fatal.

In addition to the antibiotics to control the infection, there are many things that can be done to reduce the uncomfortable symptoms of mesenteric lymphadenitis. Rest and fluids can give the body time to recover while it is fighting off infection. Fluids are particularly important if the patient is suffering from vomiting or diarrhea because they prevent dehydration.

If the patient has a fever, an over-the-counter fever reducing medication can be used to lower it. However, it is important to never give a child with mesenteric lymphadenitis aspirin, because the aspirin could cause Reye syndrome if the inflammation is caused by a virus. The pain associated with mesenteric lymphadenitis can be reduced with warm compresses and over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent mesenteric lymphadenitis from occurring after a patient has an infection or other health condition. However, avoiding unclean water can prevent parasitic conditions that can trigger mesenteric lymphadenitis, and washing your hands before handling food may stop you from catching illnesses from other people. In general, avoiding infections and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are the best ways to avoid developing mesenteric lymphadenitis.