Signs and Symptoms of Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Summary

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) can cause various signs and symptoms depending on the type of NHL and its location in the body. Some of the common symptoms of NHL includes swollen lymph nodes, fever, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, swollen abdomen etc.

Introduction

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) can cause different signs and symptoms depending on the type of lymphoma and its location in the body. Sometimes it may not show any symptoms until it gets quite large.

The presence of multiple symptoms does not indicate the presence of NHL. In fact, many symptoms are more likely to be caused by other conditions, such as infections. Nevertheless, people with these symptoms are advised to see a doctor so that they can find and treat the cause if necessary.

Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Weight loss
  • Chills
  • Swollen abdomen (belly)
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath or cough
  • Feeling of fullness even after little food
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Severe or frequent infections

B symptoms are present in some patients with NHL such as:

  • Fever without infection (may occur and resolve within days or weeks)
  • Wet night sweats
  • Untried weight loss (10% or more of body weight in 6 months)​1​.

Swollen Lymph Nodes: A Common Symptom

NHL can cause swelling or enlargement of the lymph nodes.

Lymph nodes are part of the immune system and help circulate lymph fluid that contains immune cells. There are approximately 600 lymph nodes in our body, for example, enlarged lymph nodes can feel or look like lumps under the skin that do not usually cause discomfort.

Common sites for enlarged lymph nodes include:

  • Underarm
  • Side of the neck
  • Above the collarbone
  • Groin

Enlarged lymph nodes are a symptom of NHL but are usually caused by an infection. In other words, swollen lymph nodes do not necessarily mean that the person has NHL​2​.

Symptoms from NHL in the abdomen

NHLs that start or develop in the abdomen (stomach) can cause pain or swell in the abdomen. It can occur in enlarged lymph nodes or organs, such as the liver or spleen. However, large amounts of fluid accumulation can also cause it.

When the spleen gets enlarged, it may put pressure on the stomach. This leads to feeling fullness after a small meal and losing appetite eventually.

Lymphomas in the stomach and intestines can cause abdominal pain, vomiting and nausea​1​.

Symptoms from NHL in the chest 

If the NHL starts in the thymus or lymph nodes in the chest, it can press on nearby organs (bronchial tubes), causing difficulty in breathing, coughing, or pain and pressure in the chest.

The Superior Vena Cava (SVC) is a large vein that carries blood from the head and hands to the heart. It passes through the thymus glands and lymph nodes in the chest. NHL in this area can displace SVC, allowing blood to return to the veins. This can cause swelling (sometimes bluish-red) of the head, upper chest, and arms. However, it can affects the brain, which can ultimately lead to causin difficulty breathing and changes in consciousness with time. This is called SVC syndrome. It can be life-threatening, for which it should be treated immediately.

Symptoms from NHL affecting the brain 

NHL in the brain can cause headaches, weakness in certain parts of the body, poor thinking, personality changes and occasional seizures.

Other types of NHL can spread around the spinal cord and brain. This can cause facial paralysis, double vision and difficulty in speaking.

Symptoms from NHL in the skin 

Skin lymphoma can be seen or felt. It often appears as itchy, purple or red bumps or lumps under the skin.

Symptoms That Overlap With Other Conditions

Many of the symptoms of NHL are also seen in other less serious diseases, such as infections due to flu or colds. These common symptoms may include swollen lymph nodes, fever, tiredness, and other symptoms.

The important difference is that the symptoms of less serious problems are usually not long-lasting. On the other hand, the symptoms of NHL usually persist.

When There Are No Symptoms at All

Some people with NHL do not feel any discomfort. There may be no symptoms present, or they may not recognize that their symptoms are serious.

People with the following types of NHL are more likely to be asymptomatic :

  • Small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL)
  • Follicular lymphoma
  • Slow-growing subtypes of lymphoma
  • Marginal zone lymphoma

If there are no symptoms of NHL, it may be more difficult to make an early diagnosis​1​.

References

  1. 1.
    Signs and Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. American Cancer Society. Published 2018. Accessed March 2022. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-hodgkin-lymphoma/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html
  2. 2.
    Lymphoma Symptoms: Recognizing Them Early Aids Prompt Diagnosis. Everyday Health. Published 2022. Accessed March 2022. https://www.everydayhealth.com/lymphoma/guide/symptoms/