Swollen Glands or Lymph Nodes With Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS

Swollen glands are a fairly common feature of fibromyalgia (FMS), and of the similar disease myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) as well.

A woman in pain clutching the side of her neck
Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Why Glands Swell

In most cases, swollen glands are associated with getting sick—having acute illnesses such as the flu or the common cold.

When glands puff up, it's a sign that your immune system is working hard to destroy some kind of pathogen, such as a virus or bacteria, pumping out specialized cells that seek out and destroy the things that are attacking you.

It's fairly normal for swollen lymph nodes to ache, even in "healthy" people who are fighting an illness, so they're especially likely to hurt when you have FMS.

That's because of a defining characteristics of this illness: low pain threshold, which is defined as the point at which your brain perceives a sensation as painful. Some people with ME/CFS may have lowered pain thresholds as well.

That feeling of general malaise or "unwell" that may accompany the swelling is very likely to mean you've picked up some acute illness. It could also mean your body is having a harder time than usual in the battle against longer-term pathogens.

If you are a ME/CFS patient and develop swollen glands, other causes should be ruled out before attributing the problem ME/CFS.

Longer-Term Pathogens?

Some researchers believe that these conditions, especially ME/CFS, may involve a kind of slow-burning or "smoldering" chronic infection by one or more pathogens that keeps the immune system in overdrive.

What Are Lymph Nodes?

The glands people refer to when they talk about swollen glands are actually lymph nodes, which are little bundles of capsules that contain immune cells. When your body increases its volume of white blood cells to fight off the bug, the area gets puffed up with them.

However, especially in FMS, they may also be a consequence of what some researchers describe as thick or sluggish bodily fluids. Lymph is a fluid that contains white blood cells, which are key players in your immune system, and moves through your body's lymphatic system.

In FMS, the lymph that should easily pass through seems to get backed up. We have lymph nodes throughout the body, in these locations:

  • Under the jaw and chin
  • In the groin
  • In the armpits
  • Down both sides of the neck
  • On either side of the spine on the back of the neck
  • On either side of the thyroid gland in the front of the neck
  • Behind the ears
  • On the back of the head

If you have swelling or pressure in the center of your neck, it could be a problem with your thyroid gland, not just a lymph node. Be sure to have your healthcare provider check that out right away as it could be a serious problem that needs to be treated.


Swollen lymph nodes should always be evaluated by a healthcare provider in order to treat the underlying condition causing the swelling. In the meantime, if your swollen glands are painful, you have several options for easing the pain:

  • Heat and/or ice, possibly alternating (try different combinations to see what helps most).
  • Ibuprofen, other NSAIDs, or other pain medications.
  • Manual lymph drainage (a type of massage) if it appears to be stagnant lymph.

If you have pain in one or more lymph nodes, keep track of how you're feeling. Have you been sick recently or exposed to someone who was sick? Are you more tired than usual? Note any changes in symptoms and talk to your healthcare provider about it.

Correction - June 7, 2023: This article was updated to remove the statement indicating that manual lymph drainage is a form of deep tissue massage.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Shee CD. Phantom lymphadenopathy. An association with chronic fatigue syndromePostgraduate Medical Journal. 2003;79(927):59-60. doi:10.1136/pmj.79.927.59

  2. Mohseni S, Shojaiefard A, Khorgami Z, Alinejad S, Ghorbani A, Ghafouri A. Peripheral lymphadenopathy: approach and diagnostic toolsIran J Med Sci. 2014;39(2 Suppl):158–170.

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.