Swelling: Symptoms, Causes, Types, Risk-factors, Complications, Treatments, and Precautions

Standing for too long or sitting for a long duration in a particular place, both can affect the entire body system giving rise to back pain and swelling in parts of the legs, arms and feet. Swelling which is termed as edema can occur due to several factors which are mainly affected by an unhealthy lifestyle.

“I noticed my left upper foot was puffy and painful to touch, also my left inner calf. I massaged the leg and foot upward towards my heart with scented lotion took one Tylenol pill and elevated leg. Massaging worked best. Pain to touch has gone away, though edema is present but less”- says a 54 years old female edema patient. Its true home remedies for a start can provide a huge amount of relief for several diseases let alone cure them in some situations. Isn’t that a great thing? But never delay to reach out to the doctor and consult about your condition to avoid further complications in future.

What is swelling (edema)?

When the body traps excess amount of liquid or fluid in the body tissues swelling occurs. Usually, in most cases, swelling starts to appear in parts like feet, ankles, hands, arms, and legs. Edema which affects the feet area is known as pedal edema. Every tissue present in the body is composed of cells, connective tissues, and blood vessels that bind the cells together called the interstitium. Our body fluids are stored in two places- the blood vessels (as serum portion of the body) and interstitial spaces.

Swelling can also be caused by retaining water and salt due to certain kinds of medications. Swelling (edema) can also indicate an underlying disease like heart damage, kidney or liver failure. Poor nutrition, tumour growth, blockage or surgery can also lead to swelling in different parts of the body. The underlying condition or disease and the symptoms usually depend on the cause of the swelling. Edema is a swelling condition that gradually increases with time.

Swelling (edema) may appear in the body in some part of the entire body can get affected. Medications, therapy and changes in food intake can help a lot to cover the swelling condition. Eat healthy foods like avocado, spinach, parsley, dried apricots, banana, tomatoes, raisin, leafy vegetables, yoghurt, salmon, nuts, sweet potato, olive oil, coconut oil and dandelion tea can help to remove the excess water present in the body in the form of urine. Consuming the right amount and kind of food can help to soothe both the body and mind.

Signs of swelling (edema)?

If any person is facing any of the situations mentioned below, he/she must take measures to cure it and reach out for medical help –

  • Finger rings become too tight
  • Difficulty in wearing pants or to tie a belt
  • Sweating excessively
  • Increase in heartbeat
  • Difficulty in breathing while lying down
  • Difficulty to wear footwear
  • Inability to sit properly in a chain or difficulty to walk around
  • Large, hard or blown-up belly
  • Hands feeling tight while trying to make a fist.

Types of swelling

There are different kinds of swelling (edema), different parts of the body undergo swelling and the types are categorized base on the affected part.

Types of swelling (edema) are mentioned below –

  • Angioedema-the swelling develops underneath the skin and affects the deeper layers. Angioedema may also occur on the face.
  • Cerebral edema-this kind of swelling results due to the trap of excess liquid in the brain.
  • Muscular edema-swelling in the portion of the eyes that is responsible for detailed vision.
  • Dependent edema-legs and lower body are affected in this kind of swelling. Mostly present in people who stand for a longer duration or in the areas of the hands of one who lay down on the bed for an extended time due to certain medical conditions.
  • Scrotal lymphedema-fluid accumulation in the testes which leads to the enlargement of the scrotum.
  • Lipedema-leg swells up in this disorder of the fatty tissue that affects the hips and legs.
  • Pitting edema-have you ever witnessed after a long tiring day the socks leave behind impressions on the skin due the pressure exerted by the socks. This can be termed as edema and such impression on the skin are termed as mild edema as it wears off within a few minutes. Pitting edema can become severe in cases where the indentation stays for a long time after applying pressure on the skin.

Mild swelling in any part of the body can be regarded as a normal condition; edema conditions are very much common in a pregnant lady. Swelling may start to appear in the fifth month and can increase in the third trimester.

Symptoms of swelling

The symptoms of swelling (edema) includes –

  • Overstretched or shiny skin
  • Puffiness of the tissues in the legs and arms
  • Oversize abdomen
  • Headache
  • Visible neck veins or fuller hands
  • Puffiness in the eyes, legs, or ankles
  • Excessive weight gain or weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • High blood pressure
  • Changes in bowel
  • Confuse mood
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Problems in vision
  • Skin that takes the shape of a pit after pressing the area for some time

The symptoms are purely based on the kind of swelling and the cause of it.

There a few warning signs of swelling that should not be ignored and one need to get medical help at the earliest. Some of the warning signs of swelling are-

  • Sudden swelling in any body part
  • Coughing up of blood
  • Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath
  • Presence of swelling in only one leg
  • Mild pain that might scale up or tenderness

Causes of swelling

Swelling (edema) can be caused by circulatory problems, death of tissue, any kind of infection in the body, kidney disease, overload of body fluid, electrolyte problems, and malnutrition. Some of the possible causes of swelling are-

  • Damage in the kidney

Due to kidney disease or any kind of damage in the kidney a person may not be able to eliminate the excess fluid from the body. Swelling can occur around the eye area and the legs.

  • Heart failure

If the heart becomes incapable of pumping the blood effectively then the blood gets accumulated in the limbs

  • Liver damage or liver disease

Liver conditions like cirrhosis affect the functioning of the liver which can change the secretion of hormones, reduce protein production and fluid-regulating chemicals in the body.

  • Medications

Certain kinds of medications can increase the risk of swelling. Estrogens, certain chemotherapy drugs, diabetes drugs and calcium channel blockers can be responsible to cause swelling.

  • Pregnancy

Blood releases hormones during pregnancy that increases fluid retention, leading the woman’s body to retain more sodium and water than usual quantity. Hands, limbs, feet and face can swell up during pregnancy.

  • Dietary factors

Consuming extra amount of salt, people suffering from malnutrition and consuming a diet low in vitamin B1, B5 and B6 can increase the risk of edema

  • Diabetes

Several complications arise with diabetes, swelling is one of them. Swelling in the retina of a diabetes patient is termed as diabetic macular edema.

  • Conditions that impact the brain

Swelling in the brain can occur due to injuries, stroke or a brain tumour.

  • Allergies

Allergies caused by certain types of food or at times insect bites can cause swelling. Swelling in the throat can be of a serious kind which can also lead to blockage in the airway.

Swelling can also be caused in people who have been constantly in bed rest or least amount of mobility, high altitude, inflammation in the tissues, high altitude sickness, menstruation and pre-menstruation days, using contraceptive pills, menopause or thyroid disease.

Risk factors of swelling

During pregnancy, the body retains excess sodium amount and water to provide with fluid both for the mother and the fetus which can increase the risk of getting a swell. Different types of medicines can increase the risk of swelling. People who intake medications for high blood pressure, diabetes or steroid drugs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are at risk of developing swelling in different parts of the body.

Diagnosis of swelling

At first, the doctor will examine and try to understand the reason for the swelling. The patient’s medical and family history will also be taken into account. All such examination is carried out to determine if there is an underlying disease that might have caused the swelling. The doctor may also suggest undergoing a blood test, magnetic resonance imaging, X-rays, ultrasound exams or urine analysis.

Treatment of swelling

A mild form of swelling usually wears off on its own and is not a thing of concern. However, in severe cases of edema the patient is treated with drugs that help the body to discard an excess amount of fluid in the form of urine. A different patient may be prescribed different kind of medicine based on the kind of drugs their body will react properly to. For people who experience swelling due to an underlying disease, the doctor will try to treat that disease first. The patient’s medications might also get changed like a lot of high blood pressure and diabetes medicines can cause swelling.

Before approaching the doctor try to note down a few points so that you can communicate about your condition in a better way –

  • Make a list of all the medications that you’re currently consuming
  • Note the symptoms and complications
  • Take help from your family members to analyze your condition better.

Complications of swelling

Swelling can’t be regarded as a dangerous kind of medical condition but if left untreated it can become severe and can drastically affect the day to day lives of people. The complications of edema are –

  • Low blood circulation
  • Risk of getting skin ulcers
  • Inability or facing difficulty while walking
  • Itchy and uncomfortable stretched skin
  • Presence of scarring between layers of tissue
  • Lack of elasticity of arteries, joints, muscles, and veins
  • Risk of getting infected in the swollen areas
  • Stiffness in the skin
  • Pain in the swelling areas that gradually increases
  • Prevention of swelling

Take care proper care of the swelling areas and reduce the chances of coming back. It is also very essential to consult with the doctor before trying out the home care remedies and techniques –

  • Elevation-try to hold the swollen area above the level of your heart for a couple of times; this may help you to sleep peacefully.
  • Massage-apply mild pressure using a firm grip, the pressure applied can help to move the excess fluid from the affected area. You can also take the help of an expert.
  • Compression-doctors often recommend wearing compression socks, stockings or gloves to decrease the swelling. These garment pieces add pressure to the area thus preventing fluid from getting accumulated.
  • Movement- mild movements or exercise can help to pump the excess fluid; it is safe to consult your doctor before performing any such activity.
  • Reduce the intake of salt-limit your salt intake. Salt is known to scale up fluid retention and worsen the condition
  • Protection- take proper measures and be careful while moving around. Moisturize the area gently and always wear a protective layer to keep the area safe.


Que1. Can edema be dangerous?

Ans – Edema can’t be regarded as a serious illness but it can indicate an underlying serious illness

Que2. Can you die from edema?

Ans – Pulmonary enema can lead to death as it can lead to respiratory failure

Que3. What does edema feel like?

Ans – tightness, swelling, and pain are the common symptoms of edema

Que4. Is walking good for edema?

Ans – Yes, walking can help to keep you fit and also improves the blood circulation in the legs.

Que5. What to drink to reduce swelling?

Ans –  Drink anti-inflammatory drinks, especially juices of fruits, turmeric tea and ginger juice

Que6. Do compression socks help with swelling?

Ans – Yes, it can help to control swelling in the feet and squeeze the areas to prevent the accumulation of liquid.

Que7. What helps swelling go down fast?

Ans – Try to apply ice packs for 20 to 30 minutes to heal the swelling.

Que8. Does massage help swelling go down?

Ans – Yes massages can be of great help and provide relief. Massages can also help to move the liquid out of the affected area and promote relaxation.

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