What is Edema?

Edema is characterized by swelling of the hands, ankles, feet, legs and face, but it can affect other parts of the body. The swelling is a result of water retained in the tissues.


  • Positional (remaining in one position too long)
  • Insufficient vein valves (venous insufficiency)
  • Heart failure
  • Side effect of medication
  • Pregnancy
  • Liver disease
  • Thyroid disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Excess sodium in the diet

What are the Symptoms of Edema?

The symptoms of edema may include:

  • Marked puffiness of the limbs, extremities, face or other areas
  • Taunt shiny skin over swollen locations
  • Lasting indentation after pressure is applied to swollen areas
  • Walking problems if legs are severely swollen
  • Respiratory problems and/or coughing if fluid is in the lungs

Edema Causes

There are various types and causes of edema. Mostly, edema exists as a symptom of an underlying disease.

Some of these diseases include:

  • Kidney disease. Persons with this disease experience extra fluid in their circulation which causes edema. In such a case, edema may occur in the eyes and legs.
  • Cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis may lead to accumulation of fluids in the abdominal cavity.
  • Heart failure. When the heart fails to pump blood as expected, blood can back up to the ankles and feet, causing edema.
  • Damaged veins in the legs. This condition allows blood to pool in the veins, cause blood clotting, as well as a painful swelling.

Sometimes medications for particular diseases can also cause edema. Such prescription medications include those meant for diabetes, pain, high blood pressure, inflammation, as well as estrogen and steroid drugs.

There are other mild causes of edema.

They include:

  • Having a poor diet especially that with excess salt which can cause or worsen edema if it’s combined with other factors.
  • Assuming a particular sitting or standing position for a long time, more so in a hot environment.
  • Pregnancy, as well as premenstrual signs.

How is Edema Treated?

Edema may be a symptom of a serious underlying condition. Treatment of that condition may be necessary to control water retention. For example, those diagnosed with heart failure, kidney disease or another condition must follow a treatment plan prescribed by a doctor. When controlled, symptoms of edema may be alleviated. Treatment options may also depend on the location of the swelling.

Treatment includes

  • Elevating the legs above heart level when lying or sitting for long periods of time
  • Support socks or hose
  • Moving more often (e.g., taking breaks from desk work)
  • Reduction of sodium intake
  • Lasix (furosemide) to control salt absorption
  • Diuretics to rid the body of excess water
  • Protection of swollen areas to reduce risk of injury and subsequent infection

Edema Prevention

Prevention of edema may not be possible, depending on what its cause is. For instance, edema caused by underlying health problems such as kidney disease can only be manageable but may not be preventable. However, edema caused by too much salt can be prevented by taking less salt in your diet. Below are other preventive measures of edema.

Avoid sitting in one position with feet hanging down but instead elevate them whenever possible. Car travelers should make stopovers after one or two hours and walk around. Similarly, people using airplanes to travel need to walk on the plane after every one to two hours.

Avoid smoking and any tobacco products as they inhibit the circulation of blood.

Take plenty of fluids in hot weather and remember to cool off your skin.