Oedema is a condition in which fluid accumulates in the body’s tissues, causing swelling. It can occur anywhere in the body, but is most commonly seen in the feet, ankles, and legs.
The main symptom of oedema is swelling, often in the feet, ankles, and legs. Other symptoms can include:
- A feeling of tightness or pressure in the affected area
- Dimpled or pitting skin when pressed (the skin may feel spongy or doughy)
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Difficulty breathing (in cases of severe oedema)
- Stomach pain (in cases of abdominal oedema)
What causes Oedema
Oedema can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Medications: Some medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and calcium channel blockers, can cause fluid retention and lead to oedema.
- Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause fluid retention and lead to oedema, especially in the legs and ankles.
- Heart failure: When the heart is not able to pump blood effectively, fluid can build up in the body’s tissues, leading to oedema.
- Kidney or liver disease: These conditions can affect the body’s ability to regulate fluid balance, leading to oedema.
- Venous insufficiency: This condition occurs when the veins in the legs are not able to effectively return blood to the heart, leading to fluid accumulation and oedema.
- Malnutrition: A lack of protein in the diet can lead to oedema.
Oedema can affect people of all ages and genders. However, certain groups of people may be more at risk of developing oedema. These groups can include:
- Pregnant women: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause fluid retention and lead to oedema, especially in the legs and ankles.
- Older adults: As we age, the veins in our legs may become less efficient at returning blood to the heart, which can lead to fluid accumulation and oedema.
- People with certain medical conditions: People with heart failure, kidney or liver disease, or venous insufficiency are at an increased risk of developing oedema.
- People taking certain medications: Some medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and calcium channel blockers, can cause fluid retention and lead to oedema.
If you are experiencing symptoms of oedema, such as swelling in the feet, ankles, or legs, your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination and ask you about your medical history. They may also ask you about any medications you are taking and any other symptoms you are experiencing.
To help diagnose the cause of the oedema, your healthcare provider may also order one or more of the following tests:
- Blood tests: These can help evaluate kidney and liver function, as well as check for other conditions that may be causing the oedema.
- Urine tests: These can help evaluate kidney function and identify any protein in the urine, which can be a sign of kidney disease.
- Echocardiogram: This test uses sound waves to produce a picture of the heart and can help evaluate heart function and identify any problems that may be causing the oedema.
- Ultrasound: This test uses sound waves to produce a picture of the inside of the body and can help evaluate the size and function of the kidneys and liver, as well as identify any other abnormalities that may be causing the oedema.
- Venous ultrasound: This test uses sound waves to produce a picture of the veins in the legs and can help evaluate their function and identify any problems that may be causing the oedema.
The treatment for oedema will depend on the underlying cause of the fluid accumulation. In general, treatment may include:
- Addressing the underlying cause: If the oedema is being caused by a medical condition, such as heart failure or kidney disease, treating the underlying condition will be important in reducing the oedema.
- Reducing the swelling: There are several ways to help reduce the swelling associated with oedema:
- Elevating the affected limb: Elevating the limb above the level of the heart can help reduce swelling by allowing gravity to help drain excess fluid away from the affected area.
- Compression stockings: These tight-fitting stockings can help reduce swelling by applying pressure to the affected area and promoting circulation.
- Medications: Diuretics, also known as water pills, can help remove excess fluid from the body and reduce swelling. Other medications, such as ACE inhibitors and ARBs, may also be used to treat oedema.
Complications of Oedema
Oedema is generally a treatable condition, but if left untreated, it can lead to complications. These can include:
- Skin irritation and breakdown: Prolonged swelling can cause the skin to become stretched and damaged, leading to redness, itching, and sometimes open sores.
- Infection: If the skin becomes damaged, it can be more prone to infection.
- Difficulty breathing: In severe cases of oedema, fluid accumulation in the lungs can cause difficulty breathing.
- Decreased mobility: Swelling in the legs and ankles can make it difficult to walk or move around, leading to decreased mobility.
- Poor self-care: Difficulty moving and caring for oneself can lead to decreased ability to care for oneself and perform daily activities.
- It is important to address the underlying cause of oedema and to follow your healthcare provider’s treatment recommendations in order to prevent these complications. If you are experiencing any of these complications, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider for further evaluation and treatment.
There are several steps you can take to help prevent oedema:
- Maintain a healthy diet: Eating a well-balanced diet that is low in salt can help reduce the risk of developing oedema.
- Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity can help improve circulation and reduce the risk of oedema.
- Wear compression stockings: If you are at risk of developing oedema, your healthcare provider may recommend wearing compression stockings to help prevent fluid accumulation in the legs and ankles.
- Avoid standing or sitting in one position for long periods of time: Prolonged standing or sitting can cause fluid to accumulate in the legs and ankles, leading to oedema. Taking regular breaks and moving around can help prevent this.
- Avoid crossing your legs when sitting: Crossed legs can interfere with circulation and lead to oedema.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight can increase the risk of oedema.