Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, or NHL, is cancer that starts in lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that helps fight infection. The signs and symptoms of NHL are non-specific, meaning that the same set of symptoms can be caused by many different diseases. Thus, the diagnosis of lymphoma requires testing and is not based on symptoms, alone.

Medical consultation between patient and doctor
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Frequent Symptoms

It is common for people with certain types of low-grade NHL to experience no symptoms at all, but people with NHL may often have painless, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin as an initial finding.

A person can certainly have swollen lymph nodes and not have lymphoma. However, if you find a swollen node, it is important to get it evaluated by a healthcare practitioner. Fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, bone, abdominal or chest pain, loss of appetite, itching, and nausea are other symptoms that may occur in time.

Signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma may include:

  • Painless, enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal discomfort or fullness
  • Chest pain, shortness of breath, or cough
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Fever, night sweats, or unexplained weight loss

Other Symptoms

Depending on the area of the body affected, the symptoms of NHL vary. If lymphatic tissue in the thymus (large gland by the heart) is affected, it may cause chest pain.

Coughing, respiratory difficulties in general, and shortness of breath can all be experienced if the tissue is in the chest cavity. This puts pressure on the trachea at times causing the symptoms.

Additionally, since NHL can arise virtually anywhere in the body, symptoms that involve less common sites, or sites other than the lymph nodes, may arise. For example, primary cutaneous T-cell lymphomas (CTCLs) are a group of NHLs that involve the skin. Primary CNS lymphomas involve the brain or central nervous system.

Alternatively, lymphomas can produce signs of gastrointestinal bleeding such as dark bowel movements or symptoms of obstruction, such as pain in the abdomen. The abdomen may take on a pregnant appearance or become bloated. The swelling and build up of fluid sometimes cause a blockage around the intestines, making the passage of feces difficult. About 45%–65% of all cases of GI lymphomas are associated with abdominal pain due to a mass or bowel obstruction.


Although there are many different types of NHL, each with the potential for differing complications, one of the more common complications of NHL is having a weak immune system or being immunocompromised. This can result from the lymphoma, itself, but also from various treatments for lymphoma. The result is that you may be more vulnerable to infections.

When to See a Doctor

When you feel like there has been a departure from what is normal for you, whether it is succumbing to frequent infections, feeling run down all the time, or noticing a new bump under your skin, be sure to be seen by a healthcare provider.

Keep in mind that any of the above symptoms, whether common or rare, may be signs for many other illnesses. It is important to be evaluated by a physician if you are experiencing anything that is abnormal for you, mentally or physically.

A Word From Verywell

Each person's journey in being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma is different.

With some forms of NHL, you may have no symptoms at all. Although painless swelling of a lymph node is a common initial finding, it is possible for NHL to come to medical attention due to some other sign, symptom, or laboratory abnormality.

Lymphoma is relatively uncommon, and, generally, if you have a swollen lymph node, lymphoma would not be the most likely diagnosis; however, a persistently swollen or enlarging lymph node should never be ignored.

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3 Sources
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