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Edema – Symptoms, causes and other associated risk factors

When you have swelling that is caused by excess fluid trapped in your body tissues, then you have edema. This condition can affect any part of your body but in the most cases your legs, ankles, feet, arms and hands are affected. There are many causes that can lead to this swelling such as pregnancy, medication or underlying disease (such as cirrhosis of the liver, kidney disease or heart failure). In the most cases you should reduce the amount of salt in your food and take some medication that can help you to rid of this condition [1]. But also there are many home remedies and natural cures that will help you to have effective natural treatment. When the edema is caused by some underlying condition, then you should have separate treatment.

Symptoms of Edema

Here are the signs and symptoms:

  • Increased abdominal size
  • Skin that retains a dimple after being pressed for several seconds
  • Stretched or shiny skin
  • Swelling or puffiness of the tissue directly under your skin

If you have some of the mentioned signs and symptoms, then you should talk with your doctor as soon as possible. If you experience chest pain, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, then you should seek immediate medical help.

Causes: When capillaries in your body leak fluid, then this happens. When your capillaries are leaking this fluid, then it builds up in the surrounding tissues which lead to swelling.

Mild cases of edema can be caused by

  • Pregnancy
  • Premenstrual signs and symptoms
  • Eating too much salty food
  • Sitting or staying in one position for too long

Edema also can be caused by side effects of some medications such as

  • Certain diabetes medications called thiazolidinediones
  • Estrogens
  • Steroid drugs
  • Nonsteroidal anti – inflammatory drugs
  • High blood pressure medications


Also there are some cases in which edema can be a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition such as

  • Inadequate lymphatic system: The function of the lymphatic system is to clear the excess fluid from tissues. If the lymphatic system is damage (we have made a cancer surgery that leaded to damaged lymphatic system), then the lymph vessels and nodes draining an area may not work correctly and this is a reason for edema. [2]
  • Weakness or damage to veins in your legs: One of the biggest reasons why our leg veins are damaged or weakened is the chronic venous insufficiency. This means that they will allow blood to pool in your leg veins which will lead to swelling. If you have a cloth in one of your leg veins that lead to abrupt onset of swelling in one leg accompanied by pain in your calf, then you should seek medical help as soon as possible. [3]
  • Kidney damage: If you have damage to your tiny and filtering blood vessels in your kidneys, then this can result in a nephritic syndrome. In this condition there are declining levels of albumin (which is a protein) in your blood that leads to fluid accumulation and edema. [4]
  • Kidney disease: People who suffer from kidney disease, then they have extra sodium and fluid in their circulation which leads to edema. The swelling that is associated with kidney disease usually occurs around your eyes and your legs. [4]
  • Cirrhosis: As a result of liver damage (a condition which is known as cirrhosis) which leads to fluid fluid accumulation in your ascites (abdominal cavity) you have edema. [5]
  • Congestive heart failure: The congestive heart failure happens when one or both of your heart’s lower chambers lose their ability to pump the blood in effective way. This blood can back up in your feet, ankles and legs which lead to swelling. Also when you have a heart failure, then this lead to swelling in your abdomen. Also there are some cases when fluid accumulates in your lungs (a condition that is known as pulmonary edema) in which this condition lead to shortness of breath. [6]

Risk factors: Pregnant women have more water and sodium than usual because fetus and placenta need fluid which is increasing their risk of getting edema. Also people who take some medications (such as certain diabetes medications called thiazolidinediones, estrogens, steroid drugs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and high blood pressure medications) can have increased risk of getting edema. [7]


[1] Abraham J, Merrill A. Effectiveness of a sodium restricted diet on reducing weight gain and edema formation in adult patients with chronic heart failure: A systematic review protocol. JBI Evidence Synthesis. 2013;11(4):187-96.

[2] Mortimer PS, Rockson SG. New developments in clinical aspects of lymphatic disease. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2014;124(3):915–21.

[3] Moffatt C, Keeley V, Quere I. The concept of chronic edema—A neglected public health issue and an international response: The LIMPRINT study. Lymphatic Research and Biology. 2019;17(2):121–6.

[4] Khan YH, Sarriff A, Adnan AS, et al. Chronic kidney disease, fluid overload and diuretics: A complicated triangle. PLoS One. 2016;11(7):e0159335.

[5] Kashani A, Landaverde C, Medici V, Rossaro L. Fluid retention in cirrhosis: pathophysiology and management. QJM: An International Journal of Medicine. 2008;101(2):71-85.

[6] Grossman SA. Current thinking in acute congestive heart failure and pulmonary edema. US Cardiology Review. 2004;1(1):1-6.

[7] Schreier AC. The nurse-midwifery management of physiological edema in pregnancy. Journal of Nurse-Midwifery. 1976;21(4):18-22.

Dr. Emil Sarsath (aka) Vijila, a licensed naturopathic doctor (BSMS) who always ensures his patients receive compassionate, and individualized care. He has extensive experience in primary care, digestive health, mental health, nervous system disorder and more.Area of Expertise – Naturopathic Medicine, Whole Foods-based Nutrition, Siddha, Panchakarma.She is always available through [email protected]


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