Chest CT scan of my patient with congestive heart failure (CHF) and shortness of breath shows mediastinal adenopathy.  Can mediastinal adenopathy be caused by CHF alone?

Yes! Mediastinal adenopathy (commonly defined as 1 or more lymph nodes with a short axis diameter >1 cm) may be caused by CHF alone (AKA “congestive adenopathy”). 1-4

Although not as common as alveolar/interstitial edema on chest CT scan, hypertrophy of mediastinal lymph nodes may occur in a significant number of patients with CHF.  In a study involving 215 patients with CHF and no confounding etiology of adenopathy, 68% had evidence of adenopathy, particularly involving the right paratracheal and precarinal, subcarinal and other mediastinal lymph nodes; hilar and single station adenopathy were less common. The findings of pulmonary edema on CT and pleural effusion were significantly associated with adenopathy.1

In a study involving 3 patients with mediastinal adenopathy and CHF, lymph node biopsy showed noninflammatory, benign lesions that did not affect the node structure. Follow-up CT scan in 2 patients at 8 and 10 months showed no changes in the morphologic characteristics of mediastinal lymph nodes, while in another patient most of the enlarged lymph nodes disappeared at 5 months post- acute phase of the CHF.2   Interestingly, another study involving 31 cases of “subacute left heart failure” found that average ejection fraction was lower among patients with adenopathy (34% vs 43%).3

One potential mechanism for CHF-related adenopathy is that the excess lung fluid causes increased flow of fluid through the lymphatic channels and into the lymph nodes resulting in their congestion and enlargement.1


Bonus Pearl: Did you know that experimental animal studies have shown that acute CHF is associated with significant increases in mediastinal lymphatic flow and lymphatic vessel dilatation? 4-5

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  1. Shweihat YR, Perry J, Etman Y, et al. Congestive adenopathy: A mediastinal sequela of volume overload. J Bronchol Intervent Pulmonol 2016; 23:298-302.
  2. Ngom A, Dumont P, Diot P, et al. Benign mediastinal lymphadenopathy in congestive heart failure. CHEST 2001;119: 653-656.
  3. Chabbert V, Canevet G, Baixas C, et al. Mediastinal lymphadenopathy in congestive heart failure: a sequential CT evaluation with clinical and echocardiographic correlations. Eur Radiol 2004;14:881-889.
  4. Drake RE, Dhother S, Teague RA, et al. Lymph flow in sheep with rapid cardiac ventricular pacing. Am J Physiol 1997; 272:1595-1598.
  5. Leeds SE, Uhley HN, Telesky LB. Direct cannulation and injection lymphangiography of the canine cardiac and pulmonary efferent mediastinal lymphatics in congestive hart failure. Invest Radiol 1981;16:193-200.

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Chest CT scan of my patient with congestive heart failure (CHF) and shortness of breath shows mediastinal adenopathy.  Can mediastinal adenopathy be caused by CHF alone?