Skin swelling is also known as edema. It is the swelling or inflammation of a particular body part or the entire body. Many factors can cause edema, like medications, certain medical conditions, etc.

Swelling happens when your smaller blood vessels let out fluids to other tissues. This fluid build-up causes the tissue to swell up. Edema can affect any part of the body.

Types of Edema

Depending on which part of your body is affected, there are different types of edema:

  1. Peripheral edema: This usually affects legs, feet, ankles, and hands. It could be a sign of circulatory problems, lymph nodes or kidney malfunction.
  2. Pedal edema: This usually is found in your feet and lower legs. Excess accumulation of fluids during pregnancy or old age are the most common causes.
  3. Lymphedema: Lymph nodes filter germs and waste from your body. When they are damaged due to some medical treatments or medications, it could lead to fluid build-up in your body.
  4. Pulmonary edema: When fluid accumulates in the air sacs in your lungs, it is called pulmonary edema. It leads to difficulty in breathing and it is worse when you lie down. Increased heart rate, suffocation and spitting foamy or bloody spittle are all symptoms of pulmonary edema.
  5. Cerebral edema: This is a very serious condition where there is a fluid build-up in your brain. It could happen in case you hit your head too hard, a blood vessel ruptures, you develop a tumor or you get an allergic reaction.
  6. Macular edema: When weaker blood vessels leak fluids into the macula in the eye and there is swelling, you get macular edema. The macula is the light-sensitive part present in the retina.

Causes of Edema

There could be various reasons for edema. Right from bee stings and ankle twists to infections, edema could be caused by a variety of factors. Sometimes, the problem is internal. When there is an imbalance of substances in your blood, it could lead to edema.

  1. Low albumin: This condition is called hypoalbuminemia. Albumin, along with other proteins, acts as sponges and keep fluid in blood vessels. The absence of or lesser quantity of albumin in blood might lead to edema.
  2. Allergic reactions: Allergic reactions are the most common causes for edema. Whenever an allergy is triggered, the nearby blood vessels leak fluid into the affected area to help combat the allergen.
  3. Obstruction: If fluid drainage from any part of your body is obstructed, it could cause edema. Blood clots, tumors and growths are most common reasons for obstruction.
  4. Heart failure: If the heart becomes weak and starts pumping blood less effectively, there is fluid retention in some parts of your body. Too much fluid build-up can cause pulmonary edema.
  5. Life-threatening illness: Critical allergies, burns, and other such life-threatening conditions cause blood vessels to leak fluids into almost every part of your body. There is edema all over your body.
  6. Liver diseases: Major liver diseases like liver cirrhosis cause fluid retention. Liver cirrhosis also causes lower albumin levels. There is edema in the abdomen and the legs.
  7. Kidney diseases: Conditions like nephritic syndrome causes severe edema in the legs and sometimes, the whole body.
  8. Head trauma: Conditions like low blood sodium, brain tumors, high altitudes, block in fluid drainage in the brain (hydrocephalus), headaches, unconsciousness, concussion or coma can cause edema. Head trauma is a very serious condition and needs immediate medical attention.

Some medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammants (painkillers), calcium supplements, corticosteroid hormones (drugs used for treating conditions like arthritis, blood disorders, allergies, etc.), diabetes medications, and Parkinson’s disease medications could also cause edema

Symptoms of Edema

The symptoms of edema will depend on the area and the intensity of swelling.

  • Some swellings are small (e.g. A mosquito bite), while some may cover a large area and be painful (e.g. A bee sting).
  • Some food allergies or medicinal reactions may cause tongue or throat edema. It may be critical if it affects your breathing.
  • Leg edema can cause your legs to become heavy and cause difficulty in walking. Severe leg edema also causes ulcers in the skin.
  • Pulmonary edema causes breathlessness and low blood oxygen levels. A person with pulmonary edema can also have a consistent cough with frothy spittle.

Treatment of Edema

When you have edema, your doctor tries to find the underlying cause and treat it. For example, if you have edema due to some allergy, you need to start the medication to treat the allergy. similarly, for blood clots that obstruct blood flow, you will be prescribed blood thinners that break down the clot and help blood flow again.

Tumors can be surgically removed or chemotherapy or radiation can be used to shrink them.

Liver, kidney and heart diseases that cause edema can usually be treated using diuretics. These drugs allow extra fluid from the body to exit through urine and reduce edema.

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