Edema is a general term for swelling in the body due to the buildup of excess fluid in the tissues. It may be in one specific area (such as an ankle) or in multiple locations throughout the body. It is not a condition, but is a symptom of an underlying condition.
Minor, temporary edema can be caused by pregnancy or inactivity and is rarely serious. However, longer and more severe episodes of edema could be a sign of a serious underlying medical condition, such as heart failure, kidney failure or cirrhosis of the liver. There are several types of edema due to a number of causes. A patient’s physician can best determine the type of edema and possible contributing factors.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the edema. It may range from simple changes, such as a different sleeping position, to prescribing diuretic medications for flushing fluids from the body. Physicians may also recommend reduced intake of salt, which causes the body to retain water. Some lifestyle changes may treat the condition as well as prevent its initial occurrence. Individuals who experience any unexplained edema should consult with their physician.
Role of edema in heart failure
Other symptoms related to edema
People who have edema may notice changes, such as the following:
People who have a more serious form of edema (e.g., pulmonary edema) may also experience the following:
Treatment options for edema
Diagnosis methods for edema
A physician will obtain a detailed medical history of the patient and conduct a physical examination before making a diagnosis of edema. In many cases, the presence of edema can be determined by visual inspection of the patient. Blood tests and urine tests are also useful in diagnosing certain forms edema, such as pulmonary edema. Low levels of albumin may be detected in patients with liver dysfunction or with other conditions such as nephritic syndrome. Abnormal kidney function can be assessed by blood tests.
If heart failure is suspected, the physician may order tests such as the following:
More invasive exploratory tests may be ordered in conjunction with, or instead of, the above. These tests can include a coronary angiogram, in which a contrast dye is delivered by catheter to the coronary arteries to visualize the blood vessels and left ventricle. It is used to identify heart damage or dysfunction. In addition, cardiac catheterization can evaluate the function of the various heart valves.
Prevention methods for edema
Temporary, less serious edema may be prevented by strategies such as the following:
In addition, individuals who are at risk for edema should closely monitor their limbs for signs of edema. It is easier to treat edema in the early stages rather than when it becomes more advances, such as with pitting edema. More serious edema, resulting from congestion in the lungs, usually involves treatment of the underlying condition (e.g., heart failure) by a physician rather than preventive strategies.