What is swelling?
Swelling occurs whenever the organs, skin, or other parts of
your body enlarge. It is typically the result of inflammation or a buildup of
fluid. Swelling can occur internally, or it can affect your outer skin and
A range of conditions can cause swelling. Insect bites,
illnesses, or injuries often result in external swelling. Internal swelling is
often a side effect of medication or the result of a serious injury.
You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience
rapid, unexplainable swelling, especially if you also experience unexplained
weight gain and pain.
Symptoms of swelling
Sometimes, instances of slight swelling may go unnoticed.
This condition does not always cause other symptoms.
For external swelling, the enlargement of skin or muscles is
usually visible. However, other signs of swelling include the buildup of fluid
in the affected area. An imaging scan can show an enlarged organ, muscle, or bone.
A scan can help diagnose internal swelling, which is harder to identify.
If your swelling was caused by an injury, sting, or disease,
you might experience a wide range of symptoms. These may include:
in the affected area
If the swelling is not visible or if it is internal, you may
experience the following symptoms:
What causes swelling?
Inflammation in your bones, tissues, or muscles can result
in external swelling. Cysts and tumors may also cause visible swelling.
Although fluid retention is an internal condition, it may also cause external
The most common causes for external swelling include:
External swelling can be localized or widespread.
Localized swelling refers to situations where just one
specific area is swollen. For example, a person with an eye infection may
experience swelling only around the eyes. A person who has been stung by an
insect may experience swelling only in the area of the sting.
Widespread swelling occurs over a large area of the body. This
is usually a sign of serious illness. It is often due to fluid retention or an
allergic reaction. Other common causes of widespread swelling include:
(severe allergic reaction)
People with diabetes or certain forms of cancer can
experience widespread swelling, or swelling in their extremities, such as their
fingers and toes. This form of swelling may appear periodically.
Inside of your body, swelling is often the result of organ
inflammation, fluid retention, or flatulence. This can occur in people with
chronic diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and cancer.
is swelling diagnosed?
Your doctor may do a variety of tests to diagnose your
swelling and its cause. First, they will go over the symptoms you are
experiencing and perform a physical examination to check for tenderness in the
An imaging test, such as an ultrasound, can offer more
information about the cause of the swelling. Or more specialized tests, such as
a CT scan or MRI, may also provide information on the cause of the swelling.
Imaging tests might reveal blockages in your arteries and
veins, inflamed muscle or tissue, or bone fractures. They can also show if you
are retaining fluid or have an impacted colon. And your blood and urine will be
tested to determine if a disease is causing the swelling.
If a severe allergic reaction is causing your swelling, you
will be given an injection of adrenaline before any tests are administered.
This medication will stop the reaction from getting any worse.
How is swelling treated?
Your treatment will depend on the cause of the swelling. If
a tumor or abscess is causing the swelling, you may need surgery to remove it.
If the growth can’t be surgically removed because of its size or location, your
doctor may order an aggressive treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation, to
Your doctor might also prescribe medication to relieve
inflammation or swelling. Over-the-counter antihistamines can relieve itching
and swelling caused by rashes or hives. Topical steroid medication may also be
useful in easing skin inflammation. Consult with your doctor if these
medications don’t help. You doctor may be able to prescribe a stronger
If a chronic illness is causing external or internal
swelling, you may be able to prevent further swelling by properly managing your
illness or by taking medications to treat it. Medication is also used when you
have internal swelling as a result of inflammation.
Your doctor may also suggest lifestyle changes to prevent
internal swelling. Some at-home measures you can take include avoiding salt,
wearing support hose, or keeping your arms and legs above chest level when