How is edema treated?

Your doctor will ask you questions, conduct a full exam, and might order tests to determine why you have edema.

Edema can be temporary or permanent, depending on its cause. Edema is treated according to the condition that is causing it. For example:

  • If edema is caused by lung disease, such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, quitting smoking would be advised if the patient smokes.
  • For patients with chronic heart failure, these measures would be advised: treating coronary artery disease; monitoring weight, fluid, and salt intake; and cutting down on excess alcohol.
  • If the cause is related to a medication, stopping the medication will cause the swelling to resolve. Talk to your doctor before stopping any medication.

In addition to treating the underlying diseases, there are a few other steps you can take to keep fluid from building up in your body:

  • Put a pillow under your legs when you are lying down or sitting for prolonged periods. (Keep your legs elevated above the level of your heart.)
  • Do not sit or stand for long periods of time without moving.
  • Wear support stockings, which put pressure on your legs and keep fluids from collecting in your legs and ankles. These stockings can be purchased at most drugstores.
  • Ask your doctor about limiting your salt intake.
  • Follow your doctor’s directions for taking prescription medications. Your doctor might want you to take a diuretic (commonly called a "water pill"), which helps your body get rid of excess fluid.

Other important tips:

  • Protect any swollen areas 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 doctor immediately if you have any pain, redness, or heat in a swollen area; have an open sore; or experience shortness of breath or swelling of only one limb.

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