Edema, the medical term for swelling, occurs when excess fluid becomes trapped in the body’s tissues, causing it to swell. Most common in the arms, hands, legs, ankles, and feet, edema can affect any area of the body. While is can be the result of pregnancy or medication, edema is often due to an underlying medical problem such as kidney disease, heart failure, or cirrhosis of the liver.
Symptoms of edema include shiny or stretched skin, increased abdominal size, puffiness or swelling of the tissue directly beneath your skin, and skin that maintains an indent after being pressed for a few seconds.
Edema occurs when your capillaries, the tiny blood vessels that flow throughout your body, leak fluid. When this fluid builds up in the adjacent tissues, that area of the body swells. You may have mild cases of edema due to pregnancy, overconsumption of salty food, premenstrual symptoms, or sitting or remaining in one position for an extended period of time. Edema may also be a side effect of medications like estrogens, steroids, high blood pressure medications, certain diabetes medications (thiazolidinediones), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Edema can often be relieved with a reduction of salt intake and consumption of medication that removes excess fluid. However, if edema is the symptom of an underlying medical problem, that medical problem requires separate, specific treatment.
In some cases, edema may point to a serious underlying medical condition such as cirrhosis of the liver, kidney damage, kidney disease, congestive heart failure, inadequate lymphatic system, or damage to the veins in your legs.
Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you experience shiny or stretched skin, swelling, or skin that maintains an indent after several seconds of being pressed. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing, as these symptoms may be indicators of pulmonary edema, which requires immediate treatment.
If you develop pain and swelling in a leg that does not dissipate, contact your doctor. Leg pain and swelling that don’t go away may be a sign of deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot located deep within your veins.
Left untreated, edema may result in difficulty walking, decreased blood circulation, increased risk of skin ulcers, increasingly painful swelling, decreased elasticity of muscles, joints, arteries, and veins, stretched skin, increased risk of infection in the area that is swelling, and scarring between tissue layers.