Edema (also known as dropsy or 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 face 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. 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 Provider's Office
Your health care provider will look for varicose veins, blood clots, wounds, or infections. An x-ray, CT scan, 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 you are considering.
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 any treatment, and always tell your health care provider about any herbs you may be taking. If you are pregnant or nursing, do not use herbs except under the supervision of a health care provider knowledgeable in herbal therapies. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, 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 - 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 - 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 - 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.
Clement DL. Management of venous edema: insights from an international task force. Angiology. 2000; 51:13-17.
Hansell. Imaging of Diseases of the Chest, 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby, An Imprint of Elsevier; 2005.
Haritoglou C, Gerss J, Hammes HP, Kampik A, Ulbig MW; RETIPON Study Group. Alpha-lipoic acid for the prevention of diabetic macular edema. Ophthalmologica.2011;226(3):127-37.
Kiesewetter H, Koscielny J, Kalus U, et al. Efficacy of orally administered extract of red vine leaf AS 195 (folia vitis viniferae) in chronic venous insufficiency (stages I-II). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Arzneimittelforschung 2000;50:109-17.
Ma L, Lin S, Chen R, Wang X. Treatment of moderate to severe premenstrual syndrome with Vitex agnus castus (BNO 1095) in Chinese women. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2010;26(8):612-6.
Maggiorini M. Prevention and treatment of high-altitude pulmonary edema. ProgCardiovasc Dis.2010;52(6):500-6.
Meissner MH, Eklof B, Smith PC, et al. Secondary chronic venous disorders. J Vasc Surg. 2007;46 Suppl S:68S-83S.
Schtz K, Carle R, Schieber A. Taraxacum -- a review on its phytochemical and pharmacological profile. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006;107(3):313-23.
Shi J, Yu J, Pohorly JE, Kakuda Y. Polyphenolics in grape seeds-biochemistry and functionality. J Med Food. 2003;6(4):291-9.
Szczesny G, Olszewski WL. Post-traumatic edema: pathomechanism, diagnosis and treatment. Ortop Traumatol Rehabil. 2001;3(3):385-94.
Zafra-Stone S, Yasmin T, Bagchi M, Chatterjee A, Vinson JA, Bagchi D. Berry anthocyanins as novel antioxidants in human health and disease prevention. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007;51(6):675-83.
Review Date: 3/2/2012
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.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.