What is Edema?

Edema, also known as oedema, dropsy, or hydropsy, is an abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin. Basically, it's just a fancy medical term for swelling.

Edema happens when tiny blood vessels leak and release fluid into the tissue. Extra fluid then gathers in that area, causing the tissue to swell.

While this is not always the case, a sure indication that edema is present is called "pitting" when, after pressure is applied to the area, the indentation persists after the release of the pressure. For example, if you have edema in your hands or feet, press down with your thumb and the thumbprint remains.

What causes Edema?

Edema is generally an outcome of infection or injury and in many cases, it's a “good thing” and part of the body's natural ability to heal. Increased fluid from the blood vessels allows more infection-fighting white blood cells to enter the affected area and enable healing to occur.

It can also occur from insect bites, dermatitis, or more seriously as a symptom of liver or kidney disease, heart failure or systemic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes or arthritis.

Edema is also known to show up in the later stages of pregnancy in many women. Anyone with a history of pulmonary problems, poor circulation or arthritis is at greater risk. Edema that occurs during pregnancy is usually found in the lower leg, usually from the calf down.

Edema can be organ-specific or generalized and sometimes even effect the entire body. Some organ-specific examples are:

  • Brain
  • Lungs
  • Eyes

How is Edema treated?

Treatment of edema often means treating the underlying cause of the swelling. If it's an allergic reaction that's causing the edema, it may simply be treated with an antihistamine or corticosteroid medication.

In other instances, it can be treated with a diuretic (''water pill'') and a low or no-sodium diet.

It may also involve positioning the affected body parts to improve drainage. For example, swelling in feet or ankles may be reduced by lying down in bed or sitting with the feet raised on a footrest or pillow.

Wearing Compression socks is also very effective as it applies pressure to the limb, which forces fluids to flow out of the pressurized area and reduce the swelling present.

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