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Edema, also referred to as oedema, is a medical term which describes swelling due to accumulation of fluids beneath the skin. This condition can affect certain area, as well as whole human body. It is frequently caused by inflammation, injury, pregnancy and even by the use of certain medications. Nevertheless, it might also appear as a result of a dangerous underlying condition, for instance due to congestive heart failure or liver disease. When left untreated, this type of ailment can lead to severe complications. They can include strong pain in the affected area, walking difficulties if the legs are involved, general stiffness and decreased blood circulation.
This unpleasant condition may appear as a result of numerous diseases and injuries, that can be either mild or more serious. One of the most common source of fluid accumulation include physical damage to the body. For instance, bone fracture, sprained ankle or strong impact are presumably all going to trigger edema in the damaged area. Nevertheless, such incidents tend to relieve spontaneously, when the injury gets better or become completely healed.
Another possible causes of mild to moderate edema include:
- Allergic reaction
- Constant idleness, either while sitting or lying, for a long period of time.
- Excessive salt intake
- Sting of an insect
- Use of certain medications, such as steroids, corticosteroids, estrogens, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or thiazolidinediones, which is used for diabetes.
One have to bear in mind, however, that edema might appear as a consequence of more serious disorders, including those life-threatening as well:
- Congestive heart failure
- Liver disease, e.g. cirrhosis
- Kidney malfunctions
- Head trauma or brain tumour
Associated symptoms and signs
In many cases, edema does not cause any additional symptoms. However, depending on seriousness of the ailment, amount of accumulated fluid and affected area, the condition may sometimes be present along with other various features. They appear especially when fluid accumulation is not caused by injury or light to moderate inflammations.
The most frequent symptoms, apart from swelling, associated with edema include:
- Stretched skin
- Skin discolouration, especially when compared with second limb, if the edema is asymmetrical.
- Pain in the affected area
- Movement difficulties
- Skin ulcers
In mild or moderate incidents, edema tends to relieve spontaneously. The victim of this condition can actually help to improve the fluid drainage by lifting affected area over the heart if possible. However, serious incidents triggered by an underlying disease will require professional approach. Apart from taking care of the source exclusively, the specialist can administrate additional medicine in form of diuretics. Substances from this group are given in order to expel the fluid excess from the human organism.
When to see a doctor
It is recommended to see a doctor, if the edema lasts for longer than few days or presents itself with severe pain and movement difficulties. This type of ailment should not be underestimated, since it may lead to major complications or indicate dangerous conditions. It should also be remembered, that professional medical intervention is required immediately, if the patient experience breathing difficulties, chest pain or shortness of breath. Those unpleasant sensations may be the sign of pulmonary edema, which can lead to fatal consequences.