Chances are, you or someone you know has experienced painless swelling in your life. Whether it’s from pregnancy, high blood pressure, diabetes, or something else, swelling and the buildup of fluid in certain parts of the body are more common than it seems. But what is it exactly? This swelling is often known as edema.
What is Edema?
Edema is swelling in the body caused by excess fluid building up under the skin. Typically, edema is most noticeable in the hands, feet, arms, ankles, and legs. Signs and symptoms of edema include swelling or puffiness directly under the skin, skin that looks stretched or shiny and bloating in the abdomen. Another key sign of edema is when pressure is placed on the swollen area, an indentation remains on the skin after pressure is relieved.
Who Does Edema Affect?
Edema mostly affects elderly people, but it can affect anyone. Since it is caused by blood vessels leaking fluid, there can be many causes. Mild cases of edema can sometimes be caused by pregnancy, the early premenstrual cycle, staying in one position for too long, or eating too much salt. Medications can also cause mild cases of edema as well. Blood pressure medications, estrogen supplements, steroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, and even some diabetes medications may include edema as a side effect.
While edema itself is not necessarily dangerous, it can be a sign of a more serious underlying illness. More severe cases of edema (larger areas with swelling) can sometimes be a sign of kidney damage or disease, heart failure, severe protein deficiency, cirrhosis, problems with the lymphatic system, and other illnesses.
How to Treat and Manage Edema
To treat edema, you often must first treat the source of the buildup. For mild cases, a doctor’s help is not often required, and symptoms can be taken care of at home. For example, edema in the feet and ankles caused by pregnancy can be relieved by elevating the feet above the heart level. You might also adopt a low-sodium diet and avoid drinking too many fluids.
Sometimes, compression stockings can be used to help reduce swelling in the legs and to promote blood flow. However, if the swelling grows too severe, surgery may be required. If you begin to experience pain, redness, or heat in the swollen area, swelling on only one side of the body, shortness of breath, or an open sore where the swelling is, call a doctor immediately.
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