The mesentery attaches the intestine to the abdominal wall and holds it in place. Typically, mesenteric lymphadenitis results from an intestinal infection.
An infection is usually mild and goes away without treatment. It can be confused with appendicitis. It is more likely to affect children under 16 years than adults.
Symptoms of mesenteric adenitis may resemble appendicitis.
Lymph nodes, or glands, are part of the lymphatic system. They occur throughout the body. As part of the immune system, lymph nodes help to protect the body against infection and disease. They store lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that fight infections.
When infection occurs, the number of white blood cells increases and the lymph glands swell and become painful. The lymph nodes that are closest to the infection will be the most affected.
If the lymph glands of the mesentery react to an infection in the abdomen or the intestine, they will swell and become painful, causing abdominal discomfort.
Mesenteric adenitis usually results from a viral or bacterial infection. It may also occur with some kinds of cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Symptoms and complications
Symptoms of mesenteric adenitis are similar to those of appendicitis, but the condition is not as serious.
Stomach pain may be localized near the belly button, to the lower, right side, or possibly widespread. Sometimes, a sore throat or symptoms of a cold may occur before the pain starts.
An upper respiratory infection can also develop.
Mesenteric adenitis is normally mild, and it only lasts a few days. In most cases, the problem will resolve without intervention.
However, medical help should be sought if the pain gets worse, or any of the following occur:
- sudden severe stomach pain
- stomach pain with fever
- stomach pain with diarrhea or vomiting
A person should also see a doctor if pain interferes with sleep, and if there is a change in appetite or in bowel habits that do not resolve on their own.
Mesenteric adenitis is not normally dangerous, but having swollen lymph nodes for a long time can be a sign of something more serious.
If the glands are swollen due to a severe bacterial infection, and it is not treated, it can spread to the bloodstream, and this can lead to sepsis. Sepsis is an infection of the blood and is life-threatening.
Symptoms of mesenteric adenitis can be confused with those of an ectopic pregnancy, as well as of appendicitis. If a woman has symptoms and she could be pregnant, she should seek medical help at once.
A doctor may diagnose mesenteric adenitis by using an abdominal ultrasound.
In some cases, mesenteric adenitis is hard to diagnosis because the pain is widespread.
A doctor can confirm a diagnosis of mesenteric adenitis by:
- Examining a person and looking at their medical history.
- Doing imaging studies, such as an abdominal ultrasound or a computerized tomography (CTG) scan of the abdomen, to see whether the person has mesenteric adenitis or appendicitis.
- A scan may show that the lymph nodes are enlarged, or that the wall of the intestine is thickened.
- Sending a blood sample for a laboratory test, to see if an infection is present, and if so, which type it is. A range of pathogens may be responsible. In North America, the bacteria most likely to cause mesenteric adenitis is Yersinia enterocolitia.
Treatment and home remedies
Mild cases of mesenteric adenitis often go away on their own, although some treatments may help relieve the symptoms.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medication to treat pain and fever can help to alleviate some of the discomfort.
For moderate to severe bacterial infections, a doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.
Other suggestions to help recovery include:
- getting plenty of rest to help the body recover
- drinking plenty of fluids to help prevent dehydration, especially after vomiting and diarrhea
- applying heat to the abdominal area to ease some of the pain
Home remedies may also help with mesenteric adenitis. Natural treatment options that may support immune health and help to fight the infection include:
- Echinacea: A herb that is derived from the echinacea plant and is used to help fight infections. The herb can boost the immune system and remove the toxins that cause infection. This can help speed up the healing process.
- Wild indigo: This supplement is known for its infection-fighting properties, but it must be used with echinacea, or it may be toxic. Used correctly, it can cleanse the immune system and helps to fight disease.
- Licorice: Used to treat a variety of infections because it is anti-inflammatory and enhances mucosal protection. It can also help with mesenteric adenitis by loading the intestinal tract with healthy bacteria.
At present, there is little scientific evidence to support the use of these natural remedies, however.
Mesenteric adenitis is not always preventable, but the risk of bacterial and viral infections can sometimes be reduced.
Some things that people can do to reduce the risk of mesenteric adenitis include:
- Regular hand washing with soap and water. This can kill bacteria and viruses to avoid spreading them to other people.
- Avoiding a person who is sick. Some bacteria and viruses can be spread through close contact with others.
- Disinfection. Try to keep areas where food is prepared clean, and regularly disinfect places, such as bathrooms, that could be contaminated.
Studies suggest that those who experience mesenteric adenitis during childhood or adolescence have a lower risk of ulcerative colitis in later life.