Synonyms: Swelling

Medical Specialties: Cardiology, Obstetrics/gynecology, Oncology

Clinical Definition

Edema is systemic swelling caused by an abnormal accumulation of fluids in the tissues of the body. Peripheral edema, which occurs in the feet, ankles and legs, is the most common. 

In Our Own Words

Edema is defined as an excessive accumulation of watery fluid in tissues or body cavities, marked by swelling and discomfort. It has various causes; for example, you might notice edema in an older person whose ankles appear swollen and puffy.


Pulmonary edema, which occurs in the lungs, is a sign of congestive heart failure. For pregnant women, edema can be a sign of preeclampsia. Some people with chronic conditions live with a certain amount of edema. Table salt and salt in processed foods can worsen edema, while compression stockings and foot elevation can help to reduce the ankle swelling caused by edema.

Relevant Conditions
  • Coronary artery disease, heart failure
  • Venous insufficiency
  • Kidney disease
  • Anasarca
  • Pregnancy
Common Types
  • Peripheral edema (lower legs or hands)
  • Pitting (press a thumb on the affected area, and indentation remains for a few seconds)
  • Ascites (abdomen)
  • Pulmonary edema (lungs)
Side Effects
  • Swelling and puffy skin
  • Skin that appears stretched and shiny
  • Shortness of breath (i.e., chest edema)
Share this article
  • Cleveland Clinic. “Edema.” Updated April 2012. http://my.clevelandclinic.org. Accessed August 2013.
  • Harvard Health Publications. "Medical Dictionary of Health Terms." http://www.health.harvard.edu. Accessed August 2013.
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