What is Edema?
Edema is the swelling of certain tissue within the body – occurring in the hands, arms, and most commonly all parts of the legs. The leg swelling caused by edema occurs as a result of excess fluid being trapped within the tissue of the legs. This fluid retention of the legs has a number of different effects on the cardiovascular health of an individual – causing congestive heart failure.
Symptoms of Edema
Often times when an individual is experiencing edema in the legs, or feet, their lower extremities will appear “lumpy” and swollen. The most common symptoms of edema include:
- Swelling & Puffiness of the tissue under the skin – especially in the legs.
- Shiny, overly stretched skin.
- Abnormally Large Feet and Legs
- Skin that leaves “dimples” or impressions after being pressed.
- Shortness of Breath or Labored Breathing.
- Chest Pains
In the event that you experience some of these symptoms, it is very likely that you might be suffering from pulmonary edema. In addition, if swelling or edema develops in your legs after sitting for a prolonged period of time – in conjunction with persistent leg pain, it is important to seek cardiovascular treatment immediately as it can also indicate a blood clot deep in your veins known as deep vein thrombosis.
Causes of Edema
Edema often occurs when tiny blood vessels known as capillaries begin to leak fluid, and builds up within the surrounding tissues – leading to swelling.
Most mild cases of edema are caused by:
- Sitting in one position for far too long.
- Eating overly salty food, and having a high-sodium diet.
- Pregnancy in women
- Premenstrual symptoms in women
- Edema also often occurs as a side effect of a number of medications:
- High Blood Pressure Medications
- NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Estrogen Shots & Pills
- Diabetes Medication
Edema Caused by Medical Disorders
Edema is also commonly a product of a number of different underlying medical conditions, including:
- Congestive Heart Failure – One or both of the ventricles of the heart lose the ability to contract properly and fail to pump blood correctly. As a result, blood backs up into your legs, ankles, and feet.
- Cirrhosis – Fluid accumulation in the abdominals and the legs as a result of liver damage.
- Kidney Disease – This can cause extra fluid, and sodium to circulate the blood and body – causing edema, occurring in the legs, and the eyes.
- Kidney Damage – Damage to the blood vessels in the kidneys, resulting in nephrotic syndrome. When this occurs, protein levels in the blood drop and lead to fluid accumulation.
- Damaged Leg Veins – As a result of venous insufficiency or damage, the one-way valves in your leg veins are weakened or damaged, which allows blood to pool in your leg veins and causes swelling.
- Protein Deficiency – Lack of protein over a long period of time can cause fluid to accumulate and edema to occur.
Diagnosis & Treatment
The first method of identifying Edema is through a physical exam, as well as a thorough examination of your medical history – looking for early signs of edema. While this is generally enough to identify Edema, in some cases X-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, blood tests, or a urinalysis may be necessary.
For those suffering from light to moderate edema, treatment isn’t necessary, and patients will generally find relief naturally over time. Often times edema in the legs can be healed with simple elevation (picking up the legs above the heart), causing the heart to pump blood against gravity.
For more severe cases medication is often required in order to ensure the body expels the excess liquid, as well as the high sodium content.
Sometimes the use of diuretics can help as well. This is all dependent upon your specific needs, and the severity of your issues.
In addition, the following lifestyle changes can help reduce the occurrence of Edema:
- Movement– The more active you are in your legs the more the heart will pump the excess fluid out and back towards your heart.
- Elevation–Holding the affected area, your legs, elevated above your heart, multiple times a day.
- Massage – Massage the legs towards the heart, essentially directs the fluid towards the heart and out of the legs.
- Compression – Keeps pressure built up in the legs, and prevents the fluid from building up.
- Protection – Keeps the area clean, and injury and infection-free, especially the feet – the most likely site of edema.
- Reduction of Sodium Intake – Limit the amount of salt you consume, as salt leads to fluid retention.
For more information on Edema of the legs, or other areas of the body, and to schedule your next appointment, contact us today.