Edema is swelling as a result of fluid retention. This condition usually occurs in your feet, legs, or ankles. But it can also occur in your hands, your face, or any other part of the body. Treatment varies depending on the cause.
There are many different kinds and causes of edema, and it’s often a symptom of another condition.
Serious illnesses that can cause edema include:
- heart failure
- kidney disease
- liver issues like cirrhosis
- thyroid disorders
- blood clots
- severe allergic reactions
Other factors that can cause edema include:
- chronic venous insufficiency
- obstructive sleep apnea
- prior lymph node resection
- previous radiation treatments
In pregnancy, edema is common as a person’s fluid volume increases. But rapid development of edema can indicate a serious condition called preeclampsia, which requires urgent medical attention.
Severe protein malnutrition is also a cause of edema.
Medications that can cause edema include:
It’s important that your doctor identify the cause of your edema so that it can be treated properly. Temporary edema can often be improved by reducing your salt intake and keeping your legs up when sitting.
Treatment at home
Here are a few other things you can try to ease edema:
- eating a wide variety of healthy foods while avoiding packaged and processed foods that are high in salt
- getting a moderate amount of exercise, which can help prevent swelling due to inactivity
- avoiding tobacco and alcohol
- wearing support stockings
- trying acupuncture or massage
Here’s some advice you may receive for specific conditions or situations:
- Heart failure. Diuretics may be used in conjunction with other medications that improve heart function.
- Cirrhosis. Eliminating all alcohol, reducing salt, and taking diuretics can improve symptoms.
- Lymphedema. Diuretics can be helpful during early onset. Compression stockings or sleeves can also be useful.
Seek medical care immediately if your edema is suddenly worse, painful, new, or if it’s associated with chest pain or trouble breathing. The latter may be a sign of pulmonary edema, a serious medical condition in which the lungs fill with fluid.
You should also see your doctor if you’re pregnant and develop sudden onset swelling in your legs. They’ll need to check your blood pressure, urine tests, and blood work to monitor you for preeclampsia.
This is a condition that causes high blood pressure and possibly protein in your urine. It can lead to serious complications if it goes untreated.
Edema results in fluid build-up under the skin and ultimately visible swelling. If you have edema, you may notice that the affected area becomes puffy, and the skin appears stretched and shiny.
Below is an image of visible edema in the foot.
If left untreated edema can cause several complications, including:
- increased swelling
- decreased mobility
- overly-stretched, itchy skin
- decreased blood circulation to the area
If the underlying cause of edema is also left untreated these can produce their own, more serious, complications.
While illnesses are the primary cause of edema, there are other factors that can increase your risk of developing edema.
A poor diet, especially one containing too much salt, can cause mild edema. When combined with other conditions, a poor diet can also make edema worse.
Malnutrition with a low-protein intake can also lead to hypoalbuminemia, which in turn can lead to edema.
Other physical conditions can increase your chances of developing edema. For example, edema can result from varicose veins or damaged veins in your legs. Depending on the location, any surgery that involves the removal of lymph nodes can result in edema. This form of edema is known as lymphedema.
To prevent edema, stay as physically active as you’re able, avoid excess sodium in your diet, and follow your doctor’s orders regarding any conditions that cause edema.
While the symptoms of an edema will typically improve after rest and home treatment, they can be a sign of serious medical complications like heart or kidney failure.
In general, you should see a doctor if swelling persists after treating it at home for a few days, or if it continues to worsen.
In more specific cases, if you experience difficulty breathing you should see a doctor immediately, as this may be a sign of a pulmonary edema. Also, if you suddenly develop edema during pregnancy, call your doctor immediately, as it may be a sign of complications.