Edema: Types, causes, symptoms, and treatment

Edema is swelling that occurs when too much fluid becomes trapped in the tissues of the body, particularly the skin.

There are different causes and types of edema. Pulmonary edema, for example, affects the lungs, while pedal edema causes swelling in the feet.

Edema usually starts slowly, but onset can be sudden. It is a common problem, but it can also be the sign of a serious condition.

This MNT Knowledge Center article will explain what edema is and how to recognize it, as as the different types and treatments of edema. The article will also look at possible complications of the condition.

Fast facts on edema

Here are some key points about edema. More detail is in the main article.

Edema happens when excess fluid stays within the body’s tissues.

There is usually an underlying disease or condition.

Symptoms depend on the cause, and they normally develop gradually.

Medications are available to treat edema.

What is edema?

Edema, or water retention, causes a part of the body to swell.
Edema, or water retention, causes swelling in the affected part of the body.

Edema refers to swelling and puffiness in different areas of the body.

It most often occurs in the skin, especially on the hands, arms, ankles, legs, and feet. However, it can also affect the muscles, bowels, lungs, eyes, and brain.

The condition mainly occurs in older adults and women who are pregnant, but anyone can experience edema.

Compression stockings can help reduce the discomfort of edema.
Compression stockings can help reduce the swelling and discomfort of edema.

Some self-care techniques can help prevent or reduce edema.

These include:

cutting down salt consumption

losing weight, if appropriate

doing regular exercise

raising the legs when possible to improve circulation

wearing supporting stockings, which are available to purchase online

not sitting or standing still for too long

getting up and walking about regularly when traveling

avoiding extremes of temperature, such as hot baths, showers, and saunas

dressing warmly in cold weather

A masseuse or physical therapist may help remove the fluid by stroking firmly in the direction of the heart.

Oxygen may be used to treat some kinds of edema. An individual with cardiogenic pulmonary edema may need additional oxygen if they have difficulty taking in enough oxygen.

Oxygen delivered through the nose may improve poor vision caused by diabetic macular edema.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has been found to increase the risk of pulmonary edema.

What is pulmonary edema?What is pulmonary edema?
Pulmonary edema is a potentially serious condition. Find out more
Read now

Causes

Edema can result from circulatory problems, infection, tissue death, malnutrition, kidney disease, total body fluid overload, and electrolyte problems.

There are many possible causes of edema, including:

Heart failure

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