Edema is swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in your body's tissues. Although edema can affect any part of your body, you may notice it more in your hands, arms, feet, ankles and legs.
Edema can be the result of medication, pregnancy or an underlying disease — often congestive heart failure, kidney disease or cirrhosis of the liver.
Taking medication to remove excess fluid and reducing the amount of salt in your food often relieves edema. When edema is a sign of an underlying disease, the disease itself requires separate treatment.
Signs of edema include:
Make an appointment to see your doctor if you have swelling, stretched or shiny skin, or skin that retains a dimple after being pressed (pitting). See your doctor immediately if you experience:
These can be signs of pulmonary edema, which requires prompt treatment.
If you've been sitting for a prolonged period, such as on a long flight, and you develop leg pain and swelling that won't go away, call your doctor. Persistent leg pain and swelling can indicate a blood clot deep in your vein (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT).
Swelling of the foot, ankle and leg can be severe enough to leave an indentation (pit) when you press on the area. This swelling (edema) is the result of excess fluid in your tissues — often caused by congestive heart failure or blockage in a leg vein.
Edema occurs when tiny blood vessels in your body (capillaries) leak fluid. The fluid builds up in surrounding tissues, leading to swelling.
Mild cases of edema may result from:
Edema can also be a side effect of some medications, including:
In some cases, however, edema may be a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition. Several diseases and conditions may cause edema, including:
If you are pregnant, your body retains more sodium and water than usual due to the fluid needed by the fetus and placenta. This can increase your risk of developing edema.
Your risk of edema may be increased if you take certain medications, including:
A chronic illness — such as congestive heart failure or liver or kidney disease — can increase your risk of edema. Also, surgery can sometimes obstruct a lymph node, leading to swelling in an arm or leg, usually on just one side.
If left untreated, edema can cause:
To understand what might be causing your edema, your doctor will first perform a physical exam and ask you questions about your medical history. This information is often enough to determine the underlying cause of your edema. In some cases, X-rays, ultrasound exams, magnetic resonance imaging, blood tests or urine analysis may be necessary.
Mild edema usually goes away on its own, particularly if you help things along by raising the affected limb higher than your heart.
More-severe edema may be treated with drugs that help your body expel excess fluid in the form of urine (diuretics). One of the most common diuretics is furosemide (Lasix). However, your doctor will determine whether these types of medications are a good option for you based on your personal medical history.
Long-term management typically focuses on treating the underlying cause of the swelling. If edema occurs as a result of medication use, your doctor may adjust your prescription or check for an alternative medication that doesn't cause edema.
The following may help decrease edema and keep it from coming back. Before trying these self-care techniques, talk to your doctor about which ones are right for you.
Compression stockings, also called support stockings, compress your legs, promoting circulation. A stocking butler may help you put on the stockings.
Unless you're already under a specialist's care for a current medical condition, you'll probably start by seeing your family doctor to begin evaluation for what could be causing your symptoms.
Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
For edema, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time for you and your doctor to review important points.
Questions your doctor might ask include: