What is edema?

Edema is swelling in part of your body because of fluid that gets into the tissue. It most commonly happens in the feet, ankles, or legs but may be in other parts of your body, such as your hands or face.

What is the cause?

Edema may be a symptom of a disease or an injury. Some things that can cause fluid to build up include:

  • Heart, kidney, thyroid, or liver disease
  • Blood vessel problems, especially in the legs
  • Injury to part of the body
  • Burns, including sunburn
  • Allergies to foods, medicine, or insect stings
  • Side effects of some medicines

Edema can also be normal if you:

  • Eat too much salt, which causes your body to hold fluid
  • Are pregnant
  • Stand or walk a lot when the weather is warm

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Swelling in one or more parts of the body, usually painless, but which can hurt if severe
  • Puffy or shiny skin

Edema may be mild to severe. Mild edema may only cause a feeling of tightness in your hands or feet. With severe edema, pressing on an area of swelling could leave a dent or a pit in your skin that lasts several minutes or longer.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have tests or scans to check for possible causes of your edema.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on the cause. Edema of the feet and legs caused by walking a lot in warm weather or by pregnancy may not need treatment. Treatment for some causes of edema may include:

  • Taking a water pill (diuretic)
  • Using support stockings
  • Eating less salt

How can I take care of myself?

It may help if you:

  • Raise your legs when you sit.
  • Do not cross your legs or ankles when you sit.
  • Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time.
  • Weigh yourself as often as recommended by your healthcare provider. Write down your weight and tell your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you are starting to gain weight.

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear about your test results.
  • How long it will take to recover.
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to normal activities.
  • How to take care of yourself at home, including which foods to avoid.
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them.

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

A healthy lifestyle may also help:

  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Try to keep a healthy weight. If you are overweight, lose weight.
  • Stay fit with the right kind of exercise for you.
  • Limit caffeine.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to quit smoking.
  • If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink.
  • Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-04-28
Last reviewed: 2014-04-28
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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