What is Edema?
Edema refers to the swelling caused by the retention of fluid in the tissues of the body. Edema usually occurs in the skin, especially on the feet, legs, ankles, hands, or arms. But it can also affect the muscles, lungs, bowels, brain, and eyes.
The condition generally occurs in pregnant women and older adults, but anyone may experience edema. The condition usually starts slow, but the onset of edema can be sudden. Edema is a common problem, but it can also be a sign of a serious condition.
There are many types of edema. The most common types include:
- Peripheral edema
- Pulmonary edema
- Cerebral edema
- Macular edema
Edema symptoms depend upon the type of edema, the underlying cause, and the location of edema. Noticeable symptoms include:
- Tightness and pain
- Stretched, swollen, and shiny skin
- Skin retaining a dimple after being pressed for a few seconds
- Puffiness of the face, eyes, or ankles
- Stiff joints and aching body parts
- Weight loss or gain
- Fuller neck and hand veins
- High blood pressure and pulse rate
- Abdominal pain
- Changes in bowel habits
- Confusion and lethargy
- Visual abnormalities
Who is at risk?
Edema risk factors include:
- Pregnancy: During pregnancy, the body retains more sodium and water than usual because of the fluid needed by the placenta and fetus, increasing the risk of developing edema.
- Certain medications: taking certain medications including high blood pressure medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid drugs, estrogens, and some diabetes medications called thiazolidinediones can increase the risk of edema.
- Chronic illnesses: Chronic illnesses such as congestive heart failure or kidney or liver disease can increase the risk of edema.
- Surgery: Surgery can at times obstruct a lymph node, resulting in swelling in an arm or leg, usually on only one side.
There are many different causes of edema. Edema is often a symptom of another condition.
Some serious illness that can cause edema include:
- Heart failure
- Kidney disease
- Liver problems, like cirrhosis
- Thyroid disorders
- Blood clots
- Severe allergic reactions
Medications that can cause edema include medicines prescribed for:
- High blood pressure
Other reasons for edema include:
- Varicose veins or damaged veins
- Surgery involving removal of lymph nodes
- A poor diet, or a diet with too much salt
- Prolonged standing or sitting
How is edema diagnosed?
A doctor may begin edema diagnosis by performing a physical examination. In addition to this, a primary care physician may also inquire about the medical history of the patient to understand the cause of edema. In most cases, this information is enough to determine the underlying reason for edema.
A doctor may also order a few edema test including:
- Ultrasound exams
- Blood tests
- Urine analysis
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How is edema treated?
Identification of the underlying cause of the condition by an edema doctor is very important since the treatment depends upon the cause for it. In cases of temporary edema, edema treatment can be treated by reducing the salt intake and elevating the legs when sitting.
Few at-home edema cure measures can help in easing the condition. These may include:
- Eating a wide variety of healthy and nutritious food.
- Avoiding packaged and processed food as they are high in salt content.
- Getting a moderate amount of exercise regularly.
- Avoiding alcohol and tobacco.
- Elevating the legs when possible to improve circulation.
- Wearing support stockings.
- Avoiding extremes of temperature, such as hot showers, baths, or sauna.
- Dressing warmly in cold weather.
A physical therapist or masseuse may help in removing the fluid by stroking firmly in the direction of the heart.
Medicine for edema includes diuretics. They are a type of medication that helps in getting rid of the excess fluid and easing edema by increasing the rate of urine production by the kidneys.
Some kinds of edema may be treated with the use of oxygen. A patient with cardiogenic pulmonary edema may require additional oxygen if they have difficulty taking in enough oxygen. When delivered through the nose, it may improve poor vision caused by diabetic macular edema.
How can edema be prevented?
Prevention of edema can be done by:
- Staying physically active and exercising regularly.
- Eating a healthy and nutritious diet.
- Avoiding excess sodium in your diet.
- Following the doctor’s orders regarding any conditions that may cause edema.