Swelling is otherwise known as Edema. It occurs when excessive body fluid gets confined in the body tissue. It can thus occur in any part of the body. However, edema mostly occurs in the legs, feet, and ankles. Sometimes it occurs in the hands and face also. Swelling can be caused due to any illness related to the heart, liver, or kidney. It is also noticeable as an effect of medication. Pregnant women may come across this issue during their gestational period. Even adults get swelling often due to inflammation or retention of water in the body. Swelling can cause discomfort in movement, can be painful, and can disturb your sleep. Thus, if swelling is persistent it requires treatment. 

Doctors try to find the underlying cause of the edema or swelling. Hence the treatment varies from person to person based on the cause of the swelling. Let us know more about swelling causes and treatments.

Types of edema or swelling and how they indicate a range of health conditions:

  • Pulmonary edema: It occurs when excess fluid is collected in the lungs. This condition makes breathing very difficult. An acute lung injury or congestive heart failure can be the underlying reason for pulmonary edema. This reason condition needs immediate medical intervention. If not, it might cause sudden death or respiratory failure. 
  • Peripheral edema: It mainly affects the arms, hands, feet, legs, and ankles. You may see puffiness, swelling, and difficulty in moving certain body parts in peripheral edema.
  • Cerebral edema: The brain is the main target for cerebral edema. It happens due to many reasons and most of them are dreadful. It produces symptoms including dizziness, vomiting, headache, neck pain, partial or complete vision loss, and changes in the mental state. 
  • Periorbital edema: When puffiness and inflammation occur around the eyes, it is called periorbital edema. This swelling occurs due to fluid retention and it occurs temporarily. 
  • Macular edema: This serious complication occurs in diabetic retinopathy. Edema occurs in the macula which is the part of the eye that enables clear and central vision. A person who suffers from macular edema may see changes in his central vision and colors. 
  • Pitting edema: When the pressure applies to the skin, it leaves a pit mark on the skin which is called pitting edema. 

Swelling can occur rarely in other parts of the body also apart from the one listed above. 

What causes swelling or edema?

Edema is a sign of circulatory issues, tissue death, malnutrition, and infections. When the body is overloaded with fluid and problems with electrolytes the body fluid gets trapped within the tissues of the body resulting in edema. 

The possible causes for edema or swelling are as follows:

Common causes of swelling: Sitting for a longer period, staying in one position due to work or lack of movement, and eating more salty foods are some common causes of swelling. 

Swelling as a medicine side effect: Even some medications produce edema including diabetic medicines such as thiazolidinediones, inflammation medicines such as steroids and NSAIDs, pain drugs like pregabalin, and high blood pressure medicines like calcium channel blockers.

Diseases causing swelling: 

  • Kidney damage or kidney disease: A person with a kidney disorder may not be able to eliminate enough sodium and fluid from the blood which put pressure on the blood vessels. Sometimes, liquid leaks out from the blood vessels which can cause swelling around the eyes and legs. Glomeruli are the capillaries in the kidneys that filter excess fluids and waste from the blood. This can result in nephrotic syndrome. One of the symptoms is the reduced levels of the protein albumin in the blood which can lead to edema.
  • Liver disease: The liver’s function is mostly affected by liver cirrhosis. It leads to changes in hormonal secretion and reduced protein production. This condition causes fluid to leak out of the blood vessels into the surrounding tissues. Cirrhosis also hikes pressures within the portal vein. It is a large vein that carries blood from the spleen, pancreas, liver, and intestines. Edema can occur in the abdominal cavity and legs in such a condition. 
  • Heart disease: In case of heart disease like heart failure, the heart’s efficiency to pump blood decreases. This causes poor blood circulation in the legs, ankles, and foot region causing swelling in these areas.
  • Protein deficiency: Long-term protein deficiency causes fluid accumulation in tissues causing swelling. 
  • Inefficient lymphatic system: Damage to the lymphatic system due to surgery, injury or any other reason causes poor functioning of lymph vessels and nodes. As a result, the excessive fluid accumulates causing swelling.  

State of pregnancy causing swelling:

The hormones released in the body during pregnancy encourage fluid retention and the body starts retaining more water and sodium than usual. It results in swelling in limbs, feet, hands, and face. When a pregnant woman rests in a reclined position, her enlarged uterus presses on the inferior vena cava vein. As it obstructs the femoral veins, it leads to edema during pregnancy. During pregnancy, there is an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis which is another cause of edema. Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure can also cause edema which is called Eclampsia. 

When to consult the doctor?

If the swelling area is painful, causing discomfort for movement, and is persistent consult the doctor immediately. In case you also face issues of shortness of breath or discomfort in the chest consult doctor immediately.  

Swelling or edema treatment

Edema can be treated based only on the underlying cause.

  • If a person suffers from any health issues, his or her problem should be treated first. Then, automatically, edema will reduce. 
  • If a person suffers from edema due to his activities such as standing for a long time or sitting in the same place, he should change his position.  
  • If swelling is only due to an injury, rest is essential along with applying ice on the injured area with some pain killers. 
  • For severe swelling, medications that extract water or fluid from the body in the form of urine are used. These should be used by health practitioners as these can disturb electrolyte balances and can cause unconsciousness. 

When a person suffers from edema, he or she may better wear compression stockings that resist fluid accumulation in the legs, ankles, and feet. 


Swelling or Edema may be due to many reasons, and the best way to treat is to find out its underlying cause. Swelling if persistent despite small remedies must not be ignored. It can indicate underlying disease and thus requires body examination. Thus, if you suffer for a long time swelling, better consult a physician to get relief and avoid other diseases.