Edema occurs when fluid builds up in your tissues, often in your feet, legs and ankles. Edema can affect anyone, especially people who are pregnant and adults age 65 and older. Treatment involves lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise.
Edema is the medical term for swelling caused by fluid trapped in your body’s tissues. Edema happens most often in your feet, ankles and legs, but can affect other parts of your body, such as your face, hands and abdomen.
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Edema can affect anyone, but the condition most often affects people who are pregnant and adults who are 65 years or older.
Edema is common because there are many causes associated with the condition. Mild cases of edema go away on their own, so the exact rate of occurrence is unknown.
Edema will cause parts of your body to increase in size (swell), which might prevent you from completing your daily tasks. Simple lifestyle changes like elevating the swollen part of your body or moving around if you were sitting or standing for a long period of time can reduce swelling and help you feel better. Sometimes edema is a symptom of an underlying health condition, so contact your healthcare provider if you experience symptoms of edema.
A symptom of edema is swelling in your body. Swelling occurs when a part of your body gets bigger because there is a buildup of fluid in your tissues. Swelling can happen anywhere on your body but most often affects your feet, ankles and legs.
Symptoms of swelling include:
After your healthcare provider makes an edema diagnosis, their next step is to identify what caused fluid to build up in your tissues. There are several possible causes for an edema diagnosis including:
Your healthcare provider will give a physical examination to diagnose edema, followed by diagnostic tests to find the cause. They will look for swelling, especially on parts of your body where your skin has a shiny or stretched appearance.
Edema grading is a scale used to identify the severity of your edema diagnosis and estimate how much fluid built up in your tissues.
Your healthcare provider will test an area of your body for edema by gently pressing their finger on a swollen area of your skin for five to 15 seconds (pitting test). After they release pressure, a dimple (pit) will appear in your skin. The pit indicates that there is fluid built up in your tissues.
The edema grading scale measures how quickly the dimple goes back to normal (rebound) after a pitting test. The scale includes:
Treatment for edema varies based on the cause, especially if the cause relates to an underlying health condition. For example:
In addition to treating the underlying cause of edema, there are a few steps you can take to keep fluid from building up in your body:
In some cases, the cause of edema could be too much salt in your diet. Salt causes your body to retain water, which could leak into your tissues and cause swelling. Making lifestyle changes to reduce the amount of salt in your diet could improve your edema diagnosis.
Depending on the cause of your diagnosis, edema could be temporary or permanent. Swelling normally lasts for a few days. In the first two days, you will experience the most swelling, and it should start to reduce by the third day. Following treatment from your healthcare provider reduces the amount of swelling you might experience. If your swelling doesn’t go away after a few days of treatment, talk to your healthcare provider.
Sometimes, you can’t prevent what caused edema if it is the result of an underlying health condition like heart failure, liver or kidney disease, but you can work with your healthcare provider to manage symptoms.
If the cause of edema is too much salt intake, adjusting your diet to reduce the amount of salt in the foods you eat will prevent edema.
You can also prevent edema by moving around more frequently. Sitting or standing without moving could cause fluid to build up in your tissues. If you notice you’ve been sitting for a long period of time and you’re able to, get up or move your body around; it will reduce the likelihood of swelling.
It's very important to see your healthcare provider if you experience edema or swelling in your body. Edema can stretch your skin and if not treated, swelling could increase and cause serious health problems.
Edema can be a short-term or long-term condition, depending on its cause. Treatment is available to help you manage any underlying conditions that might cause edema or you can make simple lifestyle changes to reduce swelling and fluid buildup in your body.
If you have edema, take steps to reduce swelling by:
It is important to protect any swollen areas of your body from additional pressure, injury and extreme temperatures. Injury to the skin over swollen areas takes longer to heal and is more likely to become infected.
Call your healthcare provider immediately if you experience:
The diagnostic ICD-10-CM (International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision, Clinical Modification) code for edema is R60.9. For healthcare providers, this code describes the diagnosis, symptoms and necessity for treatment. The code is used by all healthcare providers in the U.S.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Edema is common and ranges in severity for each person diagnosed with the condition based on the cause. If you are pregnant, it is normal to experience swelling as your due date nears. Normally, edema will go away on its own if you have a mild case, and medication and treatment are available if you have a more severe case.
If are not pregnant and you notice that you have unexpected swelling in a part of your body, contact your healthcare provider for an exam. Edema could be a sign of an underlying health condition and early diagnosis and treatment could lead to the best prognosis.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/17/2022.
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