Edema is the medical term for swelling. It is a general reaction of the body to inflammation or injury. Edema can develop in a small area or the entire body. Medications, infections, pregnancy, and many medical problems can cause edema. Edema can occur when small blood vessels "leak" and release fluid into nearby tissues. The extra fluid accumulates, causing the tissue to swell.
Causes of edema
Edema is a normal response of the body to inflammation or injury. For example, a sprained ankle, a bee sting, or a skin infection will all lead to edema in the affected area. In some cases, such as with an infection, this can be beneficial. The extra fluid from the blood vessel causes more infection-fighting white blood cells to reach the affected area. Edema can also arise from disorders or problems in the balance of substances that are normally present in the blood. Some causes of edema consist of:
- Physical inactivity: edema is more common in people who do not exercise at all, or who walk very little.
- Long sitting or standing: during long periods of sitting and standing there is a greater chance of swelling.
- Low albumin (hypo): albumin and other proteins in the blood act as sponges to keep the fluid in the blood vessels. Low albumin can contribute to edema, but is usually not the only cause.
- Allergic reactions: Edema is a natural component of most allergic reactions. This allows the body to leak the nearby blood vessels into the affected area.
- Obstruction in the flow: If the drainage of fluid from a body part is blocked, moisture can accumulate. A blood clot in the deep veins of the leg can lead to edema in the legs.
- Edema and cardiovascular disease (congestive heart failure): When the heart becomes weaker and the blood pumps less efficiently, fluid can slowly accumulate, resulting in edema in the legs. If fluid accumulation occurs quickly, fluid can enter the lungs (pulmonary edema).
- Edema and liver disease: Severe liver disease (cirrhosis) results in an increase in fluid retention. Cirrhosis also leads to low levels of albumin and other proteins in the blood. Liquid leaks into the abdomen (ascites), and can lead to edema in the legs.
- Edema and kidney disease: A kidney disorder, called nephrotic syndrome, can lead to severe edema in the legs, and sometimes throughout the body (anasarca).
- Edema and pregnancy: Due to an increase in blood volume during pregnancy and the pressure of the growing uterus, mild edema in the legs often occurs during pregnancy. Serious complications that have arisen during pregnancy, such as deep vein thrombosis and preeclampsia, can also cause edema.
Edema of the leg is usually caused by:
- A blood clot : blockages, such as a clot in one of the veins, can impede blood flow. This causes an increase in pressure in the vein, which can lead to leakage of fluids into the surrounding tissue, causing edema.
- Varicose veins : these are often accompanied by symptoms of edema. Varicose veins usually result from damaged valves; static pressure increases with bulging veins as a result. The static pressure also increases the risk of leakage of liquids into the surrounding tissue.
- Infection / inflammation : the lymph nodes may swell in response to the infection.
- A cyst / tumor : edema causes cysts, which can then lead to more edema. Each lump may cause edema for a number of reasons. The lump can press against a vein which can increase the pressure in that vein, which can result in fluids that leak into the surrounding tissue. The lymph nodes can respond to a tumor and swell.
- Lymphedema : the lymphatic system helps to remove excess fluid from the tissues. If this system is damaged, the lymph nodes and lymph vessels can no longer continuously extract the fluid, which can lead to edema.
A good general practitioner will give the following advice that can help with the fluid retention problem:
- If the patient is too heavy to lose weight.
- Do regular physical activity.
- Raise the legs a few times a day to improve circulation.
- Do not sit / stand too long.
- Getting up and running regularly when traveling by car, train, boat or plane.
- Avoid extreme temperatures such as hot baths, showers and saunas. Dress warmly when it is cold.
- Massage - if the affected area is firmly massaged in the direction of the heart this can help to move the fluid. It is important that the hand movements do not hurt. A qualified masseuse or physiotherapist knows how to deal with this.
- Wearing support stockings .