What is Edema?
Edema is the medical term for swelling. Generally, edema is a response to injury or inflammation. The swelling occurs from leaking blood vessels which release fluid into the body tissues. Increased fluid from the blood vessels allows more white blood cells to enter the area, and the white blood cells help to fight off the infection, but if too much fluid is released, too often or for to long, this can cause discomfort and may lead to permanent damage.
What are the Symptoms of Edema?
Symptoms of edema depend on which area is swollen. The primary symptom is pain and tenderness at the site, however other symptoms, usually present with the swelling include:
- Weight gain
- Aching limbs or joints
- Sharp stabbing pain
- Burning pain
- Itching or crawling sensation
- Pins and needles or tingling sensation
- Stiff joint or creaking or popping of joint
- Discoloration, redness or bruising of skin
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Heaviness and tiredness or fatigue
- Limited or restricted joint movement
- Hot or warm skin
- Nausea (if head and brain trauma)
- Dizziness (if head trauma)
What Causes Edema?
There are several common causes of edema. Using the computer or writing for long hours, being overweight or pregnant or having a job where you must stand or sit for long periods of time increases pressure on leg veins and result in swelling in the legs and feet.
Playing tennis or other sports, can cause repetitive stress disorder or chronic stress injury to the wrists, shoulders and elbows or other joints, resulting in edema in these joints. The primary cause of edema is inflammation. Inflammation can occur from a medical condition or disease or from trauma, such as would occur with:
- repetitive chronic stress disorder
- trauma or blow causing sprain
- muscle or tendon strain
- an insect or animal bite
- a skin infection
- fractured bone
- an allergic reaction
Other causes of edema are related to serious medical conditions such as:
- pregnancy and preclampsia
- thyroid disease
- deep vein thrombosis (blood clot)
- varicose veins
- lymphedema or lymphatic obstruction
- liver disease
- kidney disease
- cancer, metastases or benign tumor or cyst
- heart failure or heart disease
- severe burns
- life-threatening trauma
- hyponatremia (very low sodium)
- Kawasaki disease (rare disease that involves blood vessel inflammation)
Can Medications or Supplements Cause Edema?
Edema is sometimes a reaction to medications. If you are taking a prescription and notice sudden edema, it is very important to report this to your trusted health practitioner or doctor. Swollen ankles or knees can be a side effect of some blood pressure medicines. Calcium channel blockers make small blood vessels open wider and, in some people, this can cause more fluid to leak out of the blood vessels into the tissues, resulting in edema. Edema can also be a side effect of some oral diabetes medications, and non-prescription pain relievers (such as ibuprofen), and estrogens.
Glucosamine-chondroitin supplements are commonly used for relief of osteoarthritis pain. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons report that it has anti-inflammatory properties and seems to reduce joint pain. However, glucosamine-chondroitin supplements have been connected with side effects that include: nausea, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, and more serious side effect can include edema of the ankles and feet, heart palpitations and other heartbeat irregularities. If you are taking these supplements and have these serious side effects that could indicate heart, circulatory system problems or fluid retention, you should immediately contact a medical professional.
How Can I Prevent Edema?
The prevention or treatment of edema depends on the body part that is affected, yet some general changes in lifestyle can be helpful. Mild edema usually disappears on its own with proper rest and natural treatment. If you suspect your edema is caused from a serious medical condition listed above, such as blood clots, liver disease, concussion, kidney disease, heart failure, and/or others you would be wise to consult with your doctor or trusted health practitioner. More severe edema is often treated with drugs that are used to help the body expel excess fluid in the form of urine (diuretics). One of the most common diuretics is furosemide (Lasix). This is usually prescribed with heart failure to remove the fluid from the heart or lungs. For less serious situations, there are some preventative measures one can take to lower the risk of edema or to reduce swelling.
- Elevate the affected body part. One of the easiest ways to treat swelling is to elevate the swollen area, for example the feet or legs. This will stimulate circulation and reduce pain and inflammation. Lie down on the bed or couch and prop your feet and legs up on pillows.
- Reduce salt and sodium in the diet. Lower the sodium level can help prevent or lower fluid retention. Avoid packaged foods, canned or boxed soups, chips, and crackers that tend to be high in sodium. Read labels carefully and throw out foods with high sodium levels. Generally make sure sodium content on the label is less than 140 milligrams per serving or 500 milligrams per meal. However, you might need less sodium per day, depending on your medical conditions.
- Drink plenty of water. Dehydration will exacerbate inflammation and swelling. Keep a water bottle or thermos with you when you leave your home. In general, you should try to drink between half an ounce and an ounce of water for each pound you weigh. You might wonder how drinking more water can help reduce the fluids that are causing the edema. When you drink more water, the kidneys send a message to flush both salt and water from the body that can contribute to your edema.
- Take stretch breaks or change positions. If you have a work schedule that causes you to stand on your feet for hours or if you sit in one position throughout the day, consciously change positions several times an hour, even if it’s just to move around for a minute or two to get your blood flowing. Do this several times each hour to prevent swelling in the knees, ankles, feet and legs.
- Therapeutic massage. If your edema is not caused from a serious injury or skin infection but is caused from inflammation or strain, you might benefit from a relaxing massage to help the blood flow and circulation. However, massage can aggravate edema if there is injury to the muscle or bone. Be sure to consult with a trusted health care professional before engaging in massage therapy.
- Physical therapy or exercise. A physical therapist or exercise coach can be very helpful in designing a therapeutic rehabilitation plan for you based on your particular needs. Work with your trusted doctor or health practitioner to schedule you to work with a sports therapist or physical therapist.
- Water therapy, hydrotherapy or aqua therapy. Water therapy is very effective and less likely to aggravate swelling caused from injury or trauma. Studies have shown it to be effective with arthritis patients and elderly to increase circulation, reduce inflammation and edema. Some hospitals have water pools or tubs in the physical therapy department, as do some recreational or sports and physical rehabilitation centers. Check with your health practitioner to prescribe water therapy treatments if this is a good fit for you.
- Compression socks. If you have circulation problems that cause peripheral edema (swelling) in the feet, ankles and legs, your practitioner or doctor might recommend compression socks or support hose. This may occur with heart disease, varicose veins, arthritis and diabetes. These socks are often labeled as diabetic socks because they are commonly prescribed to those with diabetes. Check with your doctor to see if this is something that would help you.
- Soft braces or splints. If the cause of your swelling is tendonitis or a sprain, strain or fracture your health care practitioner might recommend a splint or soft brace to keep you from injuring the area and to restrict motion while healing. However, it may be recommended to remove the brace throughout the day to provide circulation to the area. Your health care provider might recommend that you participate in exercises and therapy while wearing splints or braces.
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This article is written by Jean Voice Dart, M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University. Jean is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at www.montereybayholistic.com. Images used in this article are free public domain from Pixabay.com orPublicdomainpictures.net Other images are credited.
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