An Overview to Understand Edema
Swelling due to fluid in your small blood vessels leaking into nearby tissue is called edema. This most commonly occurs in the feet, legs, and hands, but it’s possible anywhere on the body. Edema causes uncomfortable and painful swelling that can restrict movement, and it can cause your skin to become stretched or shiny. It can also make your skin retain a pit when pressed for a few seconds. While there are many causes of edema, the treatment of it generally stays the same. Typically, doctors will prescribe medication to help reduce swelling in severe cases, and they’ll prescribe compression gear at an appropriate level. We provide this overview to understand edema that covers the common types of edema and its causes, as edema is typically a sign of an underlying condition.
Types of edema
There are multiple types of edema. While the symptoms typically remain the same, the severity and location of the edema can differ. Here are the most common types of edema.
Peripheral edema is swelling of the legs. It’s caused by over retention of fluids in the leg tissues, and it often results from issues in the circulatory system, lymphatic system, or the kidneys. It can be chronic or an isolated incident, and it typically isn’t too severe once the underlying causes are treated.
Lymphedema is swelling in the arms or legs, and sometimes it occurs in both. Damage to, or removal of, lymph nodes—usually due to cancer treatment—typically cause this type of edema. There’s no known cure, but symptom management is helpful to those living with lymphedema.
Pulmonary edema is caused when an excess of fluid collects in the air sac of your lungs, and this can cause difficulty breathing. It’s generally caused by heart problems, but it can also come from a complication of pneumonia or exposure to certain medications and toxins.
Cerebral edema happens when the brain swells. This is a very severe condition that can restrict the blood flow to the brain. Without enough oxygen, brain cells could become damaged or even die. If you have any symptoms of cerebral edema, go to a doctor immediately, as this condition can cause irreversible damage and is fatal in some cases.
Macular edema results when fluid from damaged blood vessels accumulates in a part of the eye called the macula. It’s common in those with diabetes, recent eye surgery patients, the elderly, and those with inflammatory diseases.
Pedal edema occurs when fluid builds up in your lower legs and feet. It can restrict movement and lessen feeling in the feet. This is a common condition experienced by the elderly and pregnant people.
Idiopathic edema is how the medical field refers to edema without an explanation. The root cause of the edema, meaning the underlying condition, is not identifiable. Most edema without knowledge of root cause is put under the idiopathic umbrella, and patients are simply given symptomatic treatments.
Causes of Edema
Each type of edema has different causes. Edema is almost always a sign of an underlying disease. Edema must be treated, but to prevent it from returning or causing even more serious health issues, the underlying disease must also be pinpointed and treated. We provide some common causes of edema, and how to treat the cause, below.
Congestive heart failure
Congestive heart failure causes edema because when one or both of the heart’s lower chambers no longer effectively pump blood, it causes blood to back up in the legs, ankles, and feet. In some cases, congestive heart failure can also cause edema in the abdomen or lungs, which leads to shortness of breath and other complications.
Kidney disease can cause excess fluids and sodium to negatively impact your body’s circulation which can lead to edema. It typically effects the legs, feet, and eyes more than other body parts.
Pregnancy causes the uterus to place excess pressure on veins, and this interrupts the way the body’s circulatory system typically works. Pregnant people also have increased fluid and sodium retention to provide for both the mother and the fetus. These factors combined often lead to mild to moderate cases of edema. Most clear up after giving birth, and they’re treated with symptom management except in cases of severe edema or the development of more serious conditions, such as DVT.
Some medications, such as naproxen, ibuprofen, calcium channel blockers, and corticosteroids cause edema. If you begin to experience edema, consult your doctor or pharmacist to see if you’re reacting poorly to medication and to discuss safer options.
This chronic condition causes veins to weaken or become damaged which allows blood to more easily pool in leg veins. This can, if left untreated, lead to a blot clot or deep vein thrombosis. While venous insufficiency is manageable, it can easily turn into a serious medical condition. You should seek immediate medical attention if you suspect a blood clot or DVT.
A long term and extreme protein deficiency can cause your body to accumulate fluids, and this can lead to edema. Another dietary cause of edema is excess intake of sodium. High sodium diets affect the circulatory system, which primarily causes edema in the feet and lower legs.
Treatment of edema
Treating edema is generally the same regardless of the underlying condition that caused it. Most doctors will recommend you elevate the swollen area above your heart until the swelling subsides, then apply compression gear to prevent further swelling. In extreme or severe cases, a doctor may prescribe medication to help swelling subside and higher levels of compression gear to keep swelling down.
What to expect after treatment
If you were given medication, continue taking it as directed by your doctor. When swelling occurs, raise the affected body part above your heart and keep it elevated until swelling subsides. Wearing compression gear once the swelling goes down may help prevent additional swelling by improving your blood circulation.
Compression gear is a great option, and it’s very custom to personal preferences. Once your doctor recommends a compression level, you have your choice of product depending on the affected area. Compression gear also doesn’t have to limit your outfit options. For example, if you suffer from edema due to pregnancy, but want to wear open toe shoes to an event, you can get open toe compression thigh highs. They allow you to keep the comfort and benefits of compression without sacrificing your favorite looks.
- Elyse Aufmann