Edema: What are the causes of edema (legs, arms and body)?

Edema: What are the causes of edema (legs, arms and body)?
Photo source: Getty images

Swelling is a common symptom of various diseases or health problems. It occurs in diseases of the blood vessels, heart, but also in many skin and metabolic problems, as well as in injuries. It can be a generalized swelling that occurs throughout the body. Or it can be a local swelling that affects only a certain part of the body. Professionally, swelling is referred to as edema.

Swelling arises in different ways. It may be due to increased blood pressure in the hair follicles, lack of protein, or accumulation of lymphatic fluid in some part of the body.

Very often, various swellings are also caused by a failure of proper functioning of the kidneys or liver, or when the body is highly watered.

The most serious are the swellings that arise acutely and in a very short time. This can signal a serious problem, a life-threatening condition of a person.

Diseases of the cardiovascular system and swelling

Oedema is often present in diseases of the circulatory system and blood vessels.

Problems with the heart often lead to swelling. This may be high blood pressure, an inflammatory disease of the heart muscle called myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart membrane called pericarditis.

These diseases are also characterised by other symptoms that manifest themselves as chest pain, fatigue or other discomforts.

Treatment should be entrusted to specialists.

Particular emphasis should be placed on the swelling of both lower limbs, including the swelling of the legs in heart failure. With prolonged swelling, their swelling tends to be slower and chronic.

However, in acute heart failure, sudden (acute) swelling occurs. The most serious manifestation in this case is the swelling of the lungs.

Swelling of the abdomen may also occur.

This is the result of failure, but more often it is a symptom of liver failure, either in cirrhosis or after inflammatory diseases.

Professionally, this abdominal swelling is called ascites.

Swelling is typical in inflammation of the veins of the lower limbs, especially when the vein is blocked or hardened. In addition to swelling, discoloration of the skin is usually present.

In this type of oedema it is good to note that usually one lower limb swells and not both, as in the case of heart failure.

Swelling also occurs in diseases of the digestive and excretory systems

Often swelling signals problems in the digestive system. This is the case, for example, in celiac disease. Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disease of the small intestine, which is sensitive to gluten.

The person has swelling and a feeling of bloating.

When the kidneys, which are part of the excretory system, become inflamed or fail, swelling occurs on the face and eyelids due to fluid retention.

Swelling in the lower limbs may also be observed.

Swelling high below the knees and swelling all over the body is a sign of late stage renal failure.

It is also typically present in liver disease. Of all these, we can mention hepatitis (i.e. inflammatory disease) or failure of function due to cirrhosis.

The term cirrhosis of the liver denotes the final process of conversion of functional liver tissue into non-functional tissue. This cirrhotic tissue does not perform its function as it should. Liver failure occurs.

This results in a number of complications.

Portal hypertension is also dangerous. It also results from liver damage.

Portal hypertension is defined as an increase in blood pressure in the portal (liver) bloodstream. This condition is a result of other diseases and pathologies in the vascular system of the liver. It can also be related to heart disease.

Swelling occurs throughout the body. The occurrence of abdominal swelling is also typical. This is referred to as ascites.

It is also conditioned by protein deficiency. Overall, accompanying symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss due to lack of appetite, feeling full and indigestion, abdominal pain or bloating are also present.

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Swelling during and after a fracture

Swelling in the vicinity of an injury or at the site of a bone fracture is a distinctive entity. In trauma, local circulation is disturbed, blood flow is increased, and in fractures, blood vessels are broken, causing bleeding.

In ankle fractures, a highly visible swelling develops and returns as a reminder months to years after healing.

In frostbite (when cold is applied to a person's body), swelling occurs at the site of this application and is a symptom of first-degree frostbite. In burns (when the skin comes into contact with thermal stimuli), swelling may also occur at these sites.

Skin diseases and swelling

Some skin diseases also naturally manifest themselves as swelling. For example, rosacea may be a dermatological disease related to acne, which is characterised by redness of the skin and also by smaller swellings in the area of small pimples.

Local swelling also occurs in a parasitic skin disease called scabies.

In addition to swelling, there is also redness of the skin accompanied by itching and scratching, which usually leads to infection and secondary inflammation of the skin.

Swelling of the feet in pregnancy

The period of pregnancy is exceptional for a woman's body.

Pregnant women have experience of swelling of the lower legs. It is a relatively common phenomenon in this period. However, it is necessary to pay attention to how this swelling takes place and whether other accompanying symptoms are not associated with it.

In addition to the appearance of protein in the urine and high blood pressure, swelling of the lower extremities occurs in preeclampsia and eclampsia.

preeclampsia in pregnancy
Leg swelling in pre-eclampsia. Photo source: Thinkstock photos

Therefore, if the swelling of the legs or ankles is too great and extends above the knees, it is necessary to think of pre-eclampsia or eclampsia.

Inflammation along with swelling

Inflammation with swelling is a combination of two conditions that belong together. Each inflammation is characterized by increased blood supply resulting in swelling of the site. In addition, redness and locally increased temperature with pain are present.

Therefore, it is important to think of possible inflammation when swelling occurs.

Inflammation of the mammary gland, especially in the case of mammary gland inflammation, can also manifest itself as swelling, as can inflammation of the gums, tongue, throat, for example in laryngitis, tonsils, vocal cords, nasal mucosa and sinuses, ear, eyelids and, in fact, inflammation at any site will manifest itself as swelling.

Therefore, when swelling occurs, it is necessary to think also about possible inflammation.

In men it is necessary to be particularly careful if the testicles are swollen. Then it may be a manifestation of their inflammation or a tumour. For example, in children, but also in adults it is necessary to think about hernia.

A hernia is actually a bulging of the intestine when it bursts into the scrotum.

Allergic reaction and swelling

Swelling is very often caused by allergies. If the immune system and the body of the person affected by the allergy come into contact with the allergen, swelling can sometimes be part of the body's disproportionate reaction. This is usually local swelling, which is caused by the dilation of blood vessels and the penetration of blood into the surrounding connective tissue.

Bee stings and allergies
Allergic reaction to a bee sting. Photo source: Pixabay

Swelling after an insect bite may be localised.

More dangerous, however, is anaphylactic shock, which can manifest as swelling of the eyelids, lips, mucous membranes of the mouth, tongue, and airways, thereby restricting or even completely preventing the passage of air into the lungs.

People with bee sting allergy know how dangerous it is.

Even with metabolic problems and endocrinological diseases, swelling occurs. This is so with hyperfunction of the thyroid gland or, conversely, with insufficient production of hormones in the thyroid gland.

For example, there is significant swelling on the peripheral parts of the body, so it may not be just local swelling on the body. In Cushing's syndrome, an endocrinological disease characterised by increased cortisol production, there is swelling on the face and especially swelling on the extremities.

Lymphoedema is a disease also typically manifested by swelling, especially of the extremities. It results from improper function of the lymphatic system. There is an accumulation of fluid (lymph) in some part of the body and its tissues.

The consequence is, for example, swelling of one limb from which lymph drainage is restricted.

Tip: an article about a disease called lymphoedema.

Cancers in the oral cavity are also sometimes manifested by local swelling. Whether it is a tumour directly in the cavity or, for example, on the lips.

The tongue, throat and tonsils can also be affected by tumours, which are accompanied by swelling. Smoking is one of the most common reasons.

How to manage leg swelling at home

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