What is the cause of mesenteric adenitis?
Mesenteric adenitis means swollen (inflamed) lymph glands in the tummy (abdomen), which cause tummy pain. It is not usually serious and usually gets better without treatment. Mesenteric adenitis is a fairly common cause of tummy pain in children aged under 16 years. It is much less common in adults.
The name comes from mesentery, which is the part of the abdomen where the glands are located. Adenitis which means inflamed lymph glands. It is sometimes called mesenteric lymphadenitis.
What are lymph glands?
Lymph glands (also called lymph nodes) occur throughout the body. They are normally pea-sized. They are a major part of the body's defence (immune) system. During an infection, lymph glands swell and become painful while the immune system fights off infecting germs. They go back to normal after the infection is over.
Most people are familiar with lymph glands in the neck that can swell when you have a sore throat or tonsillitis. In a similar way, it is the lymph glands in the tummy, next to the gut (intestine), that swell during a bout of mesenteric adenitis. (See separate leaflet called Swollen Lymph Glands for more about lymph glands.)
What causes mesenteric adenitis?
Probably, a germ (infection) triggers the inflammation and swelling in the lymph glands. Most cases are probably due to a viral infection. Less often, it may be a bacterial infection that is the cause - for example, a bacterial infection in the intestine. The inflamed glands then cause pain, tenderness and a high temperature (fever).
Further reading and references
Kim JS; Acute Abdominal Pain in Children. Pediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr. 2013 Dec16(4):219-224. Epub 2013 Dec 31.
Humes DJ, Simpson J; Acute appendicitis. BMJ. 2006 Sep 9333(7567):530-4.
Groselj-Grenc M, Repse S, Vidmar D, et al; Clinical and laboratory methods in diagnosis of acute appendicitis in children. Croat Med J. 2007 Jun48(3):353-61.
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