Edema: Causes and Treatments

Edema, is swelling that’s caused by excess fluid building up in your body. As the fluid accumulates inside the blood and lymph vessels, it gets pushed out and into the surrounding tissues. The tissues absorb the fluid like a sponge and begins to swell.

Edema can occur anywhere in your body, including your organs, but it’s most visible in the extremities: hands, feet, ankles, and legs (and in men, sometimes the scrotum), where it can cause pain, discoloration, and discomfort. If edema occurs in an organ, it can actually impair the organ’s function.

What Causes Edema?
Edema has several causes, some of which are benign and some of which are more serious.

Benign Causes
Benign causes of edema include eating too much salt, sitting or standing in one place for too long, pregnancy, and premenstrual issues. Travelers often notice swollen feet after long hours spent driving, or on an airplane. This type of edema usually occurs in the extremities and resolves once the issue that’s causing the edema has been resolved. In the meantime, one can often relieve the swelling by doing one or more of the following:

  • Avoid foods and beverages high in sodiu
  • Avoid sitting or standing still for long periods
  • Wear compression socks, which you can purchase them from drug stores, medical supply stores, and online retailers like Therafirm
  • Stay well-hydrated
  • Elevatte your extremities above your heart
  • Massage lymph nodes to stimulate fluid movement.

Serious Causes
A number of diseases and disorders—and often the medications that treat them—can cause more serious forms of edema, which can occur anywhere in the body. The problem is that most people aren’t even aware that they have edema unless it has spread to the extremities or other symptoms develop. For example, congestive heart failure can cause edema in the lungs. That, in turn, could cause shortness of breath. Other diseases, conditions, and medications that can cause edema include:

  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Kidney damage and disease
  • Weak or damaged veins
  • Weak or damaged lymphatic vessels
  • Deep vein thrombosis in the leg
  • Testicular cancer
  • Medications that treat diabetes
  • Medications that treat hypertension
  • Estrogens

This type of edema could resolve if you treat the underlying condition, such as removing cancerous tumors from the testicles, or if you change your medication. However, you might also need to take a diuretic to help you clear excess fluid from your body.

If you believe your medication is causing your edema, do not stop taking your medication without first consulting your physician.

If you are in treatment to control your condition, you might also benefit from some of the treatments for benign edema such as compression garments and elevating your extremities. However, you should not attempt to self-treat your edema without first seeking a proper diagnosis.

Possible Complications

Whether it is the result of benign or serious causes, prolonged and untreated edema can cause complications.

In the extremities it can cause:

  • Pain and Stiffness
  • Difficulty moving
  • Skin discoloration
  • Itching
  • Ulcers
  • Reduced circulation

In the organs it can cause:

  • Pain
  • Reduced blood circulation
  • Impaired function
  • Scar tissue
  • Infection

If you notice swelling in your extremities along with any of the following symptoms, consult your doctor as soon as possible:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Shortness of breath, especially when lying down
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Infrequent urination
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Bloody urine
  • Excessive thirst
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Tenderness in the abdomen or lower back
  • Itching
  • Metallic taste in the mouth
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bruising easily

These symptoms could indicate heart failure, kidney failure, or cirrhosis of the liver.

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