Edema (also known as fluid retention) is swelling caused by the accumulation of abnormally large amounts of fluid in the spaces between the body's cells or in the circulatory system. It is most common in feet, ankles, and legs. It can also affect the eyes, face, brain, and hands. Pregnant women and older adults often get edema, but it can happen to anyone.
Edema is a symptom, not a disease or disorder. In fact, edema is a normal response to injury. Edema becomes a concern when it persists beyond the inflammatory phase. Widespread, long-term edema can indicate a serious underlying health problem.
Signs and Symptoms
These will vary and may include the following:
What Causes It?
Some of the following factors may cause edema:
What to Expect at Your Doctor's Office
Your health care provider will look for varicose veins, blood clots, wounds, or infections. An x-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), urine test, or blood test may be necessary. Pulmonary edema, which occurs when fluid builds up in the lungs, can be caused by other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease or by climbing at high altitudes. It can be life threatening and may require hospitalization.
Treatment may involve using compression bandages and pressure sleeves tightened over swollen limbs to help force the body to reabsorb the fluid. Other options include a salt reduction diet, daily exercise, resting with legs elevated above the heart level, wearing support hose, taking a diuretic, and massage.
Surgery may be needed to remove fat and fluid deposits associated with a type of edema called lipedema, or to repair damaged veins or lymphatic glands to reestablish lymph and blood flow.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
The following nutritional and herbal support guidelines may help relieve edema, but the underlying cause must be addressed. Tell your health care provider about any complementary or alternative therapies (CAM) you are considering. If you are pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, do not use any CAM therapies unless directed to do so by your physician.
Nutrition and Supplements
Following these nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:
You may address nutritional deficiencies with the following supplements:
Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body's systems although they can interact with many medications and have certain side effects. As with any therapy, you should work with your doctor to determine the best and safest herbal therapies for your case before starting treatment, and always tell your provider about any herbs you may be taking. If you are pregnant or nursing, do not use herbs except under the supervision of a provider knowledgeable in herbal therapies. Your doctor may need to strictly monitor your potassium levels if you take certain types of diuretics, and some herbs may be naturally high in potassium. You should not use herbal remedies without first consulting your physician. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, or teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
Acupuncture may improve fluid balance.
Therapeutic massage can help lymph nodes drain.
Excessive fluid retention during pregnancy (toxemia) is potentially dangerous to both you and your baby.
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Review Date: 4/1/2016
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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