Types of Edema and Their Common Causes

May 7th 2016

Edema can only be treated by addressing its underlying cause. Treatment can involve diuretics, reduced salt intake or surgical drainage. In addition, antihistamines or corticosteroids for edema may be recommended for edema caused by immune system reactions. If edema is accompanied by other serious symptoms or if it doesn't go away on its own quickly, see a doctor to determine the best course of action.

Pulmonary Edema

Pulmonary edema occurs when fluid accumulates in the alveoli in the lungs. This type of edema is usually caused by a blockage in the veins, with fluid filling the lungs as blood pressure rises. When the pleural cavity also fills with fluid, it's a form of pulmonary edema called pleural effusion. Pulmonary edema can also be caused by a malfunctioning of the left heart ventricle or by breathing at high altitude. It causes shortness of breath and sometimes a cough with frothy sputum.

Cerebral Edema

Cerebral edema, or fluid on the brain, typically occurs in reaction to head trauma. Other causes of cerebral edema include hydrocephalus, brain tumors and low blood sodium. It can also occur as a reaction to oxygen deprivation at high altitude. Symptoms of cerebral edema include confusion, headaches and unconsciousness. This type of edema is always serious and can lead to brain damage.

Skin Edema

Skin edema manifests itself through puffy, tight skin and generalized swelling. Often it occurs as an allergic or immune-system reaction to substances such as detergents, chemicals or insect bites. When your eyes are puffy after a long night spent horizontally, the result is also a form of skin edema. Skin edema is usually harmless and short-lived.


Lymphedema is the swelling of the lymph system. It occurs most often after a mastectomy or surgery involving the lymphatic system, and it can also be a congenital condition. In lymphedema, the lymph system fails to remove excess fluids. Other causes for lymphedema are cancer, enlarged lymph nodes, radiation therapy and infection. In addition, mild lymphedema can be a reaction to taking ibuprofen.

Peripheral Edema

Peripheral edema occurs when the lower extremities swell up. It occurs in many pregnancies, where it should always be taken seriously, since it can be a sign of pre-eclampsia. Peripheral edema can also be a warning sign of high blood pressure, kidney disease or congestive heart failure. It can also occur as a result of standing or sitting too long in one position.


Edema, the medical term for swelling, is one of the ways the body responds to inflammation or injury. It results when fluid accumulates in the body, and it can affect the whole body or any part of it. Types of edema are typically classified according to the organ or the part of the body they affect. Depending on its location, edema is most often caused by trauma, allergic reactions, blockage of fluid flowing through the body, congestive heart failure and reaction to medications.

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