Edema – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention and Treatments

Edema is observable swelling from fluid accumulation in body tissues. Edema most commonly occurs in the feet and legs, where it is referred to as peripheral edema. The swelling is the result of the accumulation of excess fluid under the skin in the spaces within the tissues. All tissues of the body are made up of cells and connective tissues that hold the cells together.

Swollen feet and legs, referred to medically as edema, occur when fluid is retained in the spaces between body cells. Edema typically affects the feet, ankles and lower legs, but can also impact any area of the body, causing systemic symptoms.

Causes

Acute mountain sickness occurs from the combination of reduced air pressure and a lower concentration of oxygen at high altitude. Symptoms can range from mild to life threatening, and can affects the nervous system, lungs, muscles, and heart.

In most cases the symptoms are mild. In severe cases fluid collects in the lungs (pulmonary edema) causing extreme shortness of breath, which further reduces how much oxygen a person gets. Brain swelling may also occur (cerebral edema). This can cause confusion, coma, and, if untreated, death.

Symptoms

People with edema may notice that a ring on their finger feels tighter than in the past, or they might have difficulty in putting on shoes, especially toward the end of the day. They may also notice a puffiness of the face around the eyes, or in the feet, ankles, and legs. When edema is present, pressure on the skin, such as from the elastic band on socks, may leave an indentation that is slow to disappear. Edema of the abdomen, called ascites, may be a sign of serious underlying disease and must be immediately evaluated by a doctor.

Diagnosis

A doctor diagnoses altitude illness based mainly on the symptoms. In high-altitude pulmonary edema, fluid can sometimes be heard in the lungs through a stethoscope. An x-ray of the chest and measurement of the amount of oxygen in the blood can help confirm the diagnosis.

Home Care

· Elevate your legs above your heart while lying down.
· Exercise your legs. This helps pump fluid from your legs back to your heart.
· Wear support stockings (sold at most drug and medical supply stores).

Relief and Prevention:

The hallmark of treatment is to reduce foot, leg and ankle swelling, and the first line of defense: leg elevation. Elevate legs above the level of the heart, which puts minimal pressure on the backs of the knees and thighs and lower back. Just sitting in a reclining chair in front of the TV is a great way to elevate your legs. Many products, for use at home or at work, can also help reduce swelling.
Treatment of edema focuses on correcting the cause of the fluid accumulation. A low-salt diet usually helps. You also should avoid drinking too much fluid. If you are not short of breath, elevate your legs above the level of your heart to keep swelling down. Your doctor might suggest that you take a low dose of a diuretic (water pill).

For swollen ankles and feet caused by pregnancy, elevate your legs and avoid lying on your back to help improve blood flow and decrease swelling.