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Disease: Edema Edema
Category: Kidney diseases

Disease Definition:

When excess fluid trapped in the body’s tissue cause swelling, it is called edema. Edema commonly occurs in the hands, arms, ankles, feet and legs, but it could affect any part of the body.


Pregnancy, certain medications or underlying medical conditions could cause edema.
In order to effectively control edema, its underlying cause should be identified and treated. Edema is treated effectively with self-care measures along with some medications that remove excess fluid.

Work Group:

Symptoms, Causes


Some of the signs and symptoms of edema may be:


  • Increased abdominal size
  • Shiny or stretched skin
  • Swelling or puffiness of the subcutaneous tissue, which is the tissue under the skin.
  • Skin that retains a dimple after being pressed for several seconds.


When tiny blood vessels in the body called capillaries leak fluid, edema occurs. Increased pressure or damage to the capillaries could cause this leakage. Whenever the body senses that the capillaries are leaking, the kidneys start retaining more sodium and water than normal in order to compensate for the lost fluid from the blood vessels. The amount of fluid circulating through the body is increased because of this, resulting in more leakage from the capillaries; and when the fluid from the capillaries leaks into the surrounding tissue, the tissue begins to swell.


Edema is a common premenstrual sign and sitting for too long or eating too much salty food could also cause a mild case of edema. The hands, feet and face of pregnant women swell because they usually retain excess fluid.


In some cases, this condition could be a side effect of some medications, such as:


  • Certain diabetes medications called thiazolidinediones
  • Vasodilators, which are drugs that open blood vessels
  • Estrogens
  • NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • Calcium antagonists, which are calcium channel blockers.


However, sometimes, this condition could be a sign of a more dangerous underlying medical condition, such as:


Cirrhosis causes scarring of the liver, a condition that interferes with the function of the liver and causes changes in the hormones and chemicals regulating fluids in the body. This condition also increases pressure within the large blood vessel called the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestine, spleen and pancreas into the liver. All of these problems could cause fluid to accumulate in the abdominal cavity called ascites and legs.

Congestive heart failure:

Edema could be caused by the backing up of blood in the legs, ankles and feet due to the loss of one or both of the heart’s lower chambers of its ability to pump blood effectively, a situation which occurs in congestive heart failure.

Kidney damage:

Nephrotic syndrome could result from damage to the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys (glomeruli), which filter waste and excess water from the blood. This condition could result in low levels of protein (albumin) in the blood, a situation that could lead to edema and fluid accumulation.

Kidney disease:

The kidneys may not be able to eliminate enough fluid and sodium from the blood when someone has kidney disease, causing the extra fluid and sodium to increase the pressure in the blood vessels and resulting in edema. Usually, the type of edema that accompanies kidney disease occurs around the eyes and in the legs.

Inadequate lymphatic system:

The lymphatic system in the body helps clear excess fluid from tissues. However, the lymph nodes and lymph vessels draining an area may not work correctly when this system is damaged. This could be either from primary lymphedema, which is lympedema that occurs on its own, or from secondary lymphedema, which could be caused by a disease or medical condition such as an infection or cancer. This causes edema.

Weakness or damage to veins in the legs:

When the veins in someone’s legs are weakened or damaged and can’t pump enough blood back to their heart, it means that they have CVI (chronic venous insufficiency) and the remaining blood increases pressure in the veins, causing swelling.



When edema is left untreated it could cause:


  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Fibrous deposits in tissues
  • Decreased blood circulation
  • Increasingly painful swelling
  • Scarring between layers of tissue
  • Increased risk of infection in the swollen area
  • Increased risk of ulceration, which is the breakdown of the skin
  • Stretched skin, which could become uncomfortable and itchy
  • Decreased elasticity of arteries, veins, joints and muscles


Some of the ways that edema could be treated are:


  • In order to decrease fluid retention, limiting the salt in the diet, as recommended by the doctor.
  • Treating the underlying cause of edema
  • Taking medications that increase the kidney’s output of water and sodium (diuretics). Diuretics that are usually used to treat edema include furosemide , spironolactone and thiazide diuretics.


Pregnant women or people who have chronic venous insufficiency should not use diuretics to treat edema.


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