In common parlance, edema implies a swelling of certain body tissues due to excess water content. Professionals define it as an accumulation of excess fluid in certain parts of the body’s tissues. The extra fluid accumulates outside of the capillaries in the spaces between the cells. Thus, the tissues become soggy and swollen.
Edema manifests itself in different forms as under:
1. Pulmonary Edema:
Pulmonary edema is a life-threatening condition in which the lungs become water-logged by an accumulation of serous fluid in the air sacs. The sudden development of pulmonary edema constitutes a medical emergency.
The usual cause of pulmonary edema is stagnation of the blood that flows through the lungs. It may be recalled that the ventricle of the right side of the heart pumps blood into and through the lungs, after which it flows into the atrium of the left side of the heart. As the blood passes through the lungs, it releases its load of carbon dioxide and accepts a new load of oxygen. Once this blood arrives in the left side of the heart it is placed under pressure by the contraction of the left ventricle and thus forced to circulate throughout the entire body.
Pulmonary edema typically occurs when, for one reason or another, the left side of the heart becomes unable to perform its usual work load. In this situation the flow of blood is impeded as it moves through the lungs, for the right side of the heart is still pumping blood into the lungs but the left side of the heart is now handicapped in disposing of the volume of blood it receives from the lungs. So, the blood flowing through the lungs on its way to the heart tends to back up, causing stagnation of blood within the lungs. This stagnation favors a seepage of the blood plasma into the delicate alveoli of the lung which would normally be occupied by air. This is how pulmonary edema occurs.
In emphysema, the lungs become less and less efficient because of progressive damage to the millions of alveoli, or air sacs, at the ends of the bronchioles in the lungs. Oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange takes place in the walls of the alveoli-but when these walls of the air sacs are damaged, cavities form which contain an accumulation of contaminated mucus. The efficiency of the lungs is greatly reduced and the patient suffers from shortness of breath (dyspnea) because the waste air is not easily removed/exhaled from the lungs and the required amount of oxygen-rich air is not restored/inhaled.
Because the lung cannot repair itself, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is a serious form of illness, sets in. COPD being incurable, Professionals focus their attention on prevention-which brings us to the consideration of its causes. Cigarette smoking is the major factor. It is also recognized that certain irritants such as cotton fibers, asbestos fibers, coal dust and cement (used in building construction) particles, carried by the air into the lungs do play a significant part in causing or aggravating the disease.
How to deal with pulmonary edema and emphysema:
Initially, lungs are not at fault when pulmonary edema develops. This condition is a result of defective functioning of the heart. Care and treatment must, therefore, be directed toward correcting and supporting the weakened heart, as well as toward the prevention of further accumulation of fluid in the lungs.
Because the lungs are now handicapped in providing the body’s requirement of oxygen, it should be arranged for the patient to breathe pure oxygen. Some physicians prescribe morphine in this emergency, not only to reduce the patient’s anxiety but because this drug tends to reduce the work load of the heart and lungs. Diuretics drugs that increase the quantity of urine produced by the kidneys may also help in ridding the body of excess fluid. The placing of tourniquets on three of the patient’s extremities for 15 minutes at a time so as to retard the return of blood from the arms and legs has the effect of reducing the congestion of blood in the lungs.
3. Rheumatoid arthritis:
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease of the joints. Its exact cause is not known. However, research suggest that as the immune system fails to work properly, the ‘synovium’, a thin membrane surrounding a joint, gradually becomes inflamed and swollen, which leads to inflammation of other parts of the affected joints.
With the passage of time, the bones linked by the joint are weakened. In severe cases, bone tissue may eventually be destroyed. The joints that are usually affected are the small ones in your hands and feet, mainly the knuckles and toe joints, but rheumatoid arthritis can develop in any joint, including your wrists, knees, ankles or neck. When your joints are affected, they become red, warm, swollen, tender to the touch, painful to move, and stiff. It is advisable to seek medical help as soon as possible.
4. Edema in cirrhosis of the Liver:
In cirrhosis, the liver’s production of protein declines, with a consequent lowering of the blood’s osmotic pressure. This favors the development of edema. Swelling of the ankles may be observed. Cirrhosis also hinders the flow of blood coming to the liver from other abdominal organs and this causes an increase of blood pressure in the capillaries of these organs. This results in an accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity (ascites).
Any type of edema calls for immediate expert medical care-so that any subsequent complications may be nipped in the bud timely and appropriately.