Many of the first symptoms of HIV are similar to the flu. In addition to fever and fatigue, swollen lymph nodes are commonly experienced. Treating the virus itself is the best way to ease these symptoms.

Learn why HIV can lead to swollen lymph nodes and how to reduce lymph node inflammation using a few at-home methods.

Lymph nodes are a part of your lymphatic system. This system plays an important role in your immune system. Lymph, a clear fluid that circulates throughout your body, is partly made of white blood cells that attack bacteria and viruses.

Lymph nodes are located in certain parts of the body, including your neck, groin, and armpits. They’re shaped like beans and measure no more than 2.5 centimeters long. Your lymph nodes are responsible for filtering lymph and producing mature immune cells.

Lymph nodes protect both your blood and immune system by:

  • filtering excess proteins
  • removing extra fluids
  • producing antibodies
  • generating specialized white blood cells
  • getting rid of bacteria and viruses

Swollen lymph nodes may also be the first signs of an infection, including HIV. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you call your healthcare provider if swollen lymph nodes last more than two to four weeks.

An infection from bacteria and viruses, including HIV, can cause swelling of the lymph nodes. The swelling occurs because the infection reaches the nodes through lymph fluid.

HIV most often affects lymph nodes around the neck as well as in the armpits and groin. Swollen lymph nodes may occur within a few days of HIV contraction. However, it’s possible not to experience any other HIV symptoms for up to several years after contracting the virus.

Usually, healthy lymph nodes aren’t visible. If there’s an infection, they become swollen and may look like hard bumps about the size of beans. As the infection progresses, more lymph nodes may swell in the body.

In addition to swollen lymph nodes, non-specific symptoms of HIV include:

  • fever
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss

Treating swollen lymph nodes often comes down to treating the underlying cause. Antibiotics can treat bacterial infections. Most swelling associated with viral infections requires time to heal. However, HIV is different than other types of viruses.

While symptoms may be absent for months at a time, the untreated virus is continuously present in the blood and other tissues. Swollen lymph nodes that occur as a result of HIV must be treated with antiretroviral medication. Antiretroviral therapy reduces symptoms and prevents transmission of HIV.

Home treatments

Other remedies may help soothe swollen lymph nodes. For example, heat from warm compresses along with medications may make you more comfortable and reduce pain. Getting plenty of rest may reduce swelling and pain as well.

Over-the-counter pain relievers may also help. However, only use these remedies as complementary treatments and not as replacements. Never rely on these remedies in place of prescribed medications for HIV.

HIV is a chronic, or ongoing, condition. This doesn’t mean swollen lymph nodes will occur all of the time. HIV symptoms tend to fluctuate depending upon the level of virus in the body and the various complications it causes.

Medications for HIV help slow the rate of immune system breakdown. It’s important to stick with all prescribed medications and treatments, even if symptoms are reduced.

Untreated HIV can weaken the immune system, leaving a person at risk of other infections. Someone with HIV is most likely to experience symptoms during these periods of sickness. Healthcare providers can give more information about managing HIV.

Noticeably swollen lymph nodes could indicate that your body is fighting an infection. Even when already taking antiretroviral medication, notify a healthcare provider if lymph nodes are swollen.