Edema

By:    Published: February 6, 2012

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There are many situations and conditions that can cause a type of swelling called edema. Some of these situations are not dangerous, while others can be life threatening. It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of edema in order to figure out whether you need to seek medical treatment for this condition.

Definition

Edema is a type of swelling caused by excess fluid becoming trapped in the tissues of the body. It typically affects extremities such as the hands, feet and ankles, but it also occurs in the arms and legs and can potentially affect any part of the body. Although certain people may be more prone to edema, it can happen to anyone.

Symptoms

There are a few key symptoms of edema, some or all of which may appear when this type of swelling occurs. These symptoms include:

  • Swelling or puffiness in the tissues directly under the skin
  • Skin that is stretched or shiny
  • Skin that retains an indentation after being pressed for several seconds
  • Increased size of the abdominal area

In addition to these symptoms, edema can lead to several complications. For example, some people with edema have difficulty walking, feel very stiff in the swollen areas and may find the swelling to be more painful as time goes on.

Edema can also increase the risk of skin ulcers, decrease blood circulation and increase the risk of infection in the swollen area. For these reasons, it is important to seek medical treatment for edema.

There are a few symptoms which rarely accompany edema, but can signal that there may be a serious problem causing the condition. If you experience shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or chest pain, seek medical attention immediately.

Causes And Risk Factors

There are many potential causes of edema, ranging from relatively harmless conditions to quite serious ones. These possible causes of the swelling include:

  • Sitting or standing in one position for a long period of time: The force of gravity will cause the water in the body to collect in certain areas, such as the feet and ankles. This is more likely to occur in warmer weather.
  • Weakening of the valves of the veins in the legs: This condition, which is called venous insufficiency, results in the veins in the legs having trouble pushing blood back up to the heart. Varicose veins may also be found when this is the cause of edema.
  • Lymph node problems: An inadequate lymphatic system leads to the lymph nodes being unable to properly drain excess fluid from tissues in the body, which could cause edema to occur.
  • Certain diseases: People with congestive heart failure, thyroid diseases, lung diseases, liver diseases and kidney diseases may be more likely to experience this condition.
  • Pregnancy: Being pregnant may lead to edema in the legs due to the fact that the uterus is putting increased pressure on the blood vessels in the lower part of the body.
  • Salt: Having too much salt in your diet can cause edema or make it worse.
  • Medications: Taking certain types of medications, such as calcium channel blockers, estrogens, thiazolidinediones (diabetes medications), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and drugs that open blood vessels, may cause edema as a side effect.

Prevention

It may be difficult to prevent edema. One of the best ways to control edema is to regulate the amount of salt in your diet. According to MayoClinic.com, the average adult should limit their sodium intake to 2,300 mg a day, which is just slightly less than a teaspoon of table salt. For certain individuals, including those who are over the age of 50, those who are black and those with high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes, that number should be dropped to 1,500 mg a day. Controlling your salt intake is one method to prevent edema or to keep it from getting worse. (For advice on reducing sodium intake, see 8 Ways To Reduce Sodium Intake In Your Daily Diet.)

Additionally, you can prevent edema by receiving treatment for any of the conditions which may cause edema, such as thyroid diseases or kidney diseases. Treating underlying causes of edema may help stop the condition before it starts.

Treatment

As with prevention, the best treatment of edema often involves the treatment of underlying causes. For instance, with lung diseases causing edema, quitting smoking is often the first step in both treating the underlying cause and getting rid of edema. Additionally, your doctor may be able to recommend certain medications which do not have edema as a potential side effect. Limiting salt intake is another edema treatment method often recommended by doctors.

In addition to seeing a doctor about the underlying causes of edema, there are also several home remedies which can help with this condition. First, try moving the area affected by edema, which can help pump the excess fluid back to the heart. You can also elevate the affected part of the body above your heart for about 30 minutes at a time, 3 or 4 times a day. Massaging the area or using a compression stocking may also be helpful for relieving swelling in the affected area.

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