The medical term for swelling caused by fluid retention is edema. Other symptoms of edema include:
- Discomfort in the swollen area
- Reduced mobility of the swollen area
- Shiny, stretched skin over the swollen area
- Skin that does not quickly return to normal after it has been pressed (see picture)
If your feet or legs are swollen, it might be for as simple a reason as standing for too long, or for as serious a reason as a health condition that requires emergency medical attention. Here’s how to tell the difference.
Edema can be a side effect of certain medications, including blood pressure medication, steroids, antidepressants, NSAIDs, and certain diabetes medications.
The following 6 medical conditions can also cause edema:
1. Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
DVTs are blood clots which occur deep in the legs. This type of clot is serious since it can cause a blockage in a vein, or else the clot might break loose and cause a blockage in the heart or lungs.
Consider the possibility of a DVT if:
the swelling occurs in only one leg and is accompanied by pain, a low-grade fever, and a change of color in the affected area. A DVT is a medical emergency.
2. Venous Insufficiency
Valves in your veins prevent blood from backing up. Venous insufficiency refers to the failure of those valves.
Consider the possibility of venous insufficiency if:
the swelling is accompanied by aching, flaking skin, the appearance of varicose veins, or skin ulcers.
Venous insufficiency is a serious condition, but not a medical emergency. If you suspect venous insufficiency, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.
3. Right-side Heart Failure
If the right side of the heart is damaged, it is unable to pump enough blood to the body. This can result in retention of salts and water.
Consider the possibility of heart failure if:
the swelling is accompanied by shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness, a rapid heartbeat, coughing, wheezing, abdominal swelling, general fluid retention, or difficulty concentrating.
If you suspect your edema is caused by heart failure, you should seek immediate medical attention.
4. Liver Disease
Liver Disease causes edema by inhibiting the production of albumin, a protein that prevents blood from leaking out of the blood vessels.
Consider the possibility of liver disease if:
the swelling is accompanied by jaundice, dark urine, bruising, fatigue, or tenderness in the abdomen.
Liver disease is serious, but not a medical emergency. If you suspect your swelling is caused by liver disease, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.
5. Kidney Disease
The kidneys help flush fluid out of the body. One of the signs of kidney disease is edema.
Consider the possibility of kidney disease if:
the swelling is accompanied by frequent urination, shortness of breath, discomfort in the chest, nausea, confusion, and in severe cases: seizures or lapsing into a coma.
With the exception of frequent urination, many of these symptoms are similar to those of a heart attack. They may also indicate an advanced stage of kidney failure. Anyone experiencing these serious symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.
Lymphedema is edema caused by the gathering of lymphatic fluid in the tissues.
Lymphedema often occurs in people who have undergone treatment for cancer, particularly radiation therapy, or removal of one or more of their lymph nodes.
A person with lymphedema should see their doctor as soon as possible.
At Atlantic Coast Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, in Lakewood, NJ, we are always alert to physical changes in any of our residents, and we are quick to take appropriate medical action.
We take a restorative approach to senior health, maximizing function and mobility in a positive and upbeat atmosphere.
Or better yet, come see for yourself: Contact us to schedule a tour by calling 732-364-7100, or by clicking here.