Edema is often written off as a fancy term for swelling, something that happens all the time. But swelling is a side effect, meaning you have an underlying injury, condition, or disease that needs to be treated. Often misunderstood and ignored, edema can lead to some very negative results.
What is edema?
Edema is a buildup of fluid in body tissues, resulting in swelling. One of the most common places for edema to occur is in the ankles or legs. This is called peripheral edema.
Why does edema occur?
Edema has many diverse causes. It can occur as a result of pregnancy, medication side effects, or be a symptom of an underlying disease such as congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, or kidney disease. The buildup of fluid is caused by salt retention, which holds excess water in the tissues.
How do I recognize edema?
Edema can be identified by swelling present in tissues underlying the skin. Your skin may look shiny or tightly stretched. When the skin is pressed, a dimple may appear and be present for several minutes. Because your feet, ankles, and legs are swollen, clothing, socks, and shoes will fit differently or not at all. Your legs may also feel heavier and walking can become difficult.
What are the negative effects of edema?
Edema that stretches the skin can leave you open to dermatitis (itchy skin), wounds, infection, and ulcers. Due to restricted blood flow, these ulcers may take months to heal or require amputation in severe cases. Persistent edema with pain can also be a symptom of a clotted vein (deep vein thrombosis) in the leg. Decreased circulation can also decrease the elasticity of the arteries, veins, and joints.
How can I treat edema?
Some edema can be reduced or eliminated with the use of medications to remove fluid and by changing your daily salt intake. Other treatments for edema include compression socks, elevation, exercise, and weight loss. However, edema is truly a side effect of another disease or condition, and when this occurs, the disease or condition leading to edema needs to be treated to affect the edema itself.
Whether your peripheral edema is the result of a twisted ankle, a pregnancy, or vein disease, it’s important to see a podiatrist. Early treatment and long-term management are key to avoiding negative side effects and keeping you healthy and active. If you have edema, especially without an obvious cause, make an appointment today!