Edema is fluid retention commonly known as dropsy. Edema around the ankle (peripheral edema) is easier to see after standing. If you lie down for a while, your eyes may appear puffy. Edema can accumulate in the lungs and cause shortness of breath in severe cases.
Mild edema is common and often harmless. That can be due to allergies, medications, or more serious underlying diseases.
If you have edema, it is recommended to see a doctor. In many cases, a specific reason is not found.
What is Edema?
Edema is an assortment of watery fluid in body tissues. It comes from the Greek word swelling, categorized by swelling of the body’s ankles, legs, feet, and other parts.
Edema of the feet and ankles usually occurs in obese people. Being overweight, staying in the same posture for a long time, overeating salty food, pregnancy, shrinking clothes can cause swelling in the feet, ankles, and fingers.
Edema can also develop due to the following reasons:
- Heart failure: If the heart is not functioning correctly, blood can accumulate in the body. Fluid enters the lungs and tissues of the body, causing shortness of breath and gradual swelling of the feet and ankles.
- Accidents or injuries that cause sprains or strain.
- Reaction to insect bites.
- Due to infection.
- Lymphoedema, abnormal accumulation of lymphatic fluid (from lymphatic filariasis or breast cancer treatment).
- Kidney or liver problems.
- DVT: Deep Vein Thrombosis. There may be a severe blood clot in the deep blood vessels of the legs.
- Antihypertensive drugs, birth control pills, antidepressants, steroids, and other drugs.
Symptoms of Edema
Fluid buildup under the skin can cause swelling. That usually occurs on the lower legs and ankles.
In addition to a swelling of the skin, edema can also cause other symptoms, such as:
- Skin discoloration
- The area of the skin that temporarily holds fingerprints when pressed (spotted edema)
- Hard joint
- Tender and aching limbs
- Weight gain
Causes of Edema
Swollen feet are not a sign of illness. It is especially true if you are sitting or standing for long periods.
Mild edema is very common during pregnancy and is generally not a worry. Edema can be a sign of underlying health, especially if it persists or other severe symptoms (such as shortness of breath).
The following conditions or actions can cause it:
- Cardiac failure
- Thyroid disease
- Chronic lung disease
- Liver disease
- Medicines such as corticosteroids and high blood pressure medications
- Oral contraceptives
Prolonged immobility or standing is the most common cause of lower limb edema.
Other possible reasons are:
- Blood clots
- Leg injury or leg surgery
- Severe varicose veins
- Burns the skin
Lifestyle causes of edema
The most common reasons for edema are associated with lifestyle and daily habits, including:
- Staying immobile in the same position for a long time; consisting of lying in bed, traveling, or generally sitting or standing for extended periods.
- Eating too salty food.
What is meant by swollen legs?
There are unexpectedly many different types of leg swelling.
One or both legs may be swollen.
If two legs, one side may be symmetrical or worse.
Certain parts of the leg or the entire leg may be swollen.
It can occur abruptly or gradually.
It may always be there, or it may come and go.
It may or may not be painful.
What are the symptoms of swollen legs?
“Leg swelling” is a symptom in itself, but the legs can swell in different ways. The sign to the reason (and treatment) is likely to be the type of swelling. Swelling can be:
Single-sided or double-sided
Edema due to common physical conditions is usually bilateral and symmetrical (such as if it is due to pregnancy, heart failure, or kidney problems). One-sided swelling is most likely due to a particular part of the leg problem.
Specific areas or generalizations
Swelling around the joints is commonly triggered by injury or arthritis. Swelling in some areas of the skin can be caused by trauma, infections, burns, or allergies. Swelling around the heel indicates problems such as the trauma of the Achilles’ tendon. Very often, edema from nutritional causes (kwashiorkor in children), nephrotic syndrome, dermatologic infections, intoxication, severe adverse events following drug usage, general infection, or degenerative causes are presented mainly as general swelling, not just as edema of the limbs.
Painful or painless
Painful conditions include infections, DVT (deep vein thrombosis), joint problems, and injuries. Edema is usually painless, but it can cause leg injuries and tension.
With a red (inflamed) or normal complexion
If the skin turns red, it is most likely due to an infection (such as cellulitis) or inflammation (such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or deep vein thrombosis).
Whether it is pitting or not
Pitting means that a dent rests on the skin when you push your finger into the swollen area and release your fingertip. Edema is often pitting. Lymphoedema is when the lymph is clogged and usually does not decrease much.
Where could the swelling be coming from?
Generally, swelling is due to the presence of fluid in the spaces between the tissues or cells of the legs or arms. In this case, it is called edema. When the fingertips are loosened and then pressed with the fingertips, the bruises left on the skin are called pitting edema.
Who is affected by edema?
Females are more likely to experience edema (fluid retention) than men. Some women notice swelling of their ankles before menstruation because the female hormone (progesterone) tends to cause fluid retention. Edema can occur first at any age if you have an allergic reaction or anemia. Older people who sit for long periods develop edema. It is also more likely to be the basis of heart and kidney disease that can cause edema.
How can I get rid of edema fast?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and there is no quick dose. Mild edema (especially in the legs and ankles) usually results from being overweight and exercising, so it helps solve these problems. After losing weight, you may be surprised to find that excess water disappears quickly. But, persistent edema requires a doctor’s evaluation to find the underlying cause.
How can I avoid edema?
You need to find the root cause of edema (fluid retention) and resolve it if possible. Idiopathic edema has no definite reason and is very common. The best way is to swim or walk regularly, avoid being overweight, and put your feet on the stool when you take a break.
Treatment for swelling and edema
If the swelling or edema does not heal on its own, treatment depends on the cause. Your doctor will help diagnose the condition and determine the right course of action.
That can include routine changes, such as more frequent physical exercises (e.g., yoga, swimming, bicycling, walking), the frequent elevation of the limbs during the day and in the evening, losing weight, or following a low-salt diet.