Edema (swelling): types, symptoms, diagnosis and natural treatment

Swollen legs are the common symptom of pitting edema and it also includes ankle swelling, swelling under one eye, and facial swelling.

Posted by Rukhma Khalid on February 19 , 2023


Edema is swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in the body's tissues, especially the skin. It usually occurs in the skin, especially on the legs feet, and ankles. It also can affect the other body parts for example muscles, eyes, bowels, brain, and lungs. So, in the human body's organ, there are interstitial spaces where fluid is accumulate.

Types of Edema:

Edema have many type so some common types are discus below:

  1. Generalized edema
  2. Skin edema
  3. Peripheral Edema
  4. Corneal edema
  5. Cerebral edema
  6. Pulmonary edema
  7. Myxedema
  8. Lymphedema
  9. Macular edema
  10. Papilledema

1. Generalized edema:

In this condition swelling in the abdomen, arms, swollen legs, puffy ankle, face, and feet occurs.

2. Skin edema:

It occurs in the tissues and cells of the skin. So, in this type of edema, some parts of the skin may seem tight and puffy.

3. Peripheral Edema:

It mainly occurs in the legs, feet, and ankles. In other words, this is the most common type and causes swelling in the lower extremities.

4. Corneal edema:

The water retention in the cornea causes corneal swelling. This condition is known as corneal edema.

5. Cerebral edema:

Cerebral edema is also a very serious condition in which fluid builds up in the brain. This condition may result from a range of reasons. Many of which are life-threatening such as

  • Trauma to the head
  • Tumor
  • Allergic reaction
  • Blood vessel gets blocked or burst
  • Loss of consciousness that leading to brain herniation and even death

6. Pulmonary edema:

When there is an accumulation of fluid in the interstitial tissue around the alveoli in the lungs is referred to as pulmonary edema. So, pulmonary edema is a serious condition as it can make it hard to breathe.

7. Myxedema:

It occurs when the connective tissues are filled with water-lowering carbohydrates like compounds such as hyaluronan.

8. Lymphedema:

Lymphedema can result from enlarge lymph nodes, cancer, destruction of the lymph vessels by radiation therapy, and infection of the lymphatic system.

9. Macular edema:

This type of edema occurs when fluid builds up in a part of the eye. Moreover, it is a serious complication in diabetic retinopathy complication.

10. Papilledema:

This type of edema occurs due to the pressure inside the skull and also around the brain. So, it results in optic nerve swelling of the eye.

However, edema start can be sudden but it starts slowly. It is a common problem but can also be a sign of a serious medical condition. So, it is important to check with a doctor if there is a concern about any kind of swelling.

Different causes of Edema:

Mild cases of edema have many symptoms and it can cause:

  • Being pregnant
  • Eating too much salty food
  • Sitting or staying in one position for too long such as when traveling over a long distance
  • Having premenstrual signs and symptoms
  • High altitude
  • Burns
  • Sunburn

Edema also occurs due to the side effect of some medications for example:

  • Estrogens
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (naproxen and ibuprofen)
  • Thiazolidinediones or diabetes medications
  • Steroid drugs
  • Some chemotherapy drugs
  • Calcium channel blockers

It can also cause by several diseases and conditions such as

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Kidney disease
  • Confusion
  • Kidney damage
  • Cirrhosis
  • Severe long-term protein deficiency
  • Thyroid disease
  • Varicose veins

Common sign and symptoms of Edema:

  • Swelling or puffiness directly under the skin especially in the arms or legs
  • Stretched or shiny skin over the swollen area
  • Difficulty in moving joints
  • Increased abdominal size
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath in pulmonary edema
  • Skin that retains an indentation like pits or a dimple when pressure is applied to a small area for several seconds

If edema left untreated:

If left untreated edema can cause an increased risk of

  • Skin ulcers
  • Scarring between layers of tissues
  • Decreased blood circulation
  • Difficulty in walking
  • Infection in the swollen area increases

Diagnosis for Edema:

So, to make a diagnosis the doctor will review the medical history and perform a physical exam. The doctor may also order tests including

  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI
  • Urine analysis
  • Blood tests

All these might help to determine the underlying cause of edema.

Treatment for Edema:

Edema in mild cases usually resolves easily particularly adopting a certain lifestyle. However, more severe cases of edema may be treated with medications that help the body expel excess fluid in the urine like diuretics.

Long-term management of edema focuses on treating the underlying condition that is due to swelling. If edema is due to the side effect of medication then the doctor prescribed alternative medicine that doesn't cause edema.

Natural remedies to treat Edema:

People adopt certain lifestyle modifications that can help them to lessen edema. So, it includes:

  • Exercise
  • Massage
  • Reduced salt intake
  • Wear compression socks, sleeves, or gloves to prevent swelling
  • Elevating the affected leg or arm above the heart level several times a day