Oedema (also spelled edema) is swelling caused when fluid leaks out of the body's capillaries. (The capillaries are the body's smallest blood vessels.) The fluid builds up and gets trapped in the tissues around the leaking blood vessels. This causes swelling. If there is enough swelling, edema can be seen from outside of the skin.
Edema can happen in any part of the body. However, it is easiest to see in the arms and legs, including the hands, ankles, and feet. Edema in the arms and legs is called peripheral edema.
Edema in the abdomen is called ascites.
Signs and Symptoms
Some of the signs and symptoms of edema are:
- Swelling or puffiness right under the skin
- Skin that looks stretched or shiny
- Changes in skin color
- Aching arms and legs
- Stiff joints
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Blood pressure and pulse rate that are higher than normal
Many things can cause edema. When edema is mild (not very serious), the most common causes are:
- Eating too much salt
- Staying still for long periods of time
- Side effects from some medicines
However, edema can also be a sign of serious disease. Diseases that can cause edema include:
- Congestive heart failure (CHF). In CHF, the heart does not pump hard enough to send blood throughout the body. This can cause blood to back up in the arms and legs (causing peripheral edema). It can also cause fluid to back up in the lungs (pulmonary edema).
- Liver damage (cirrhosis). Liver damage can cause fluid to back up in the abdomen (ascites) and the legs.
- Kidney problems. The kidneys' job is to remove extra fluid from the blood. If the kidneys are not doing this job, the fluid builds up in other parts of the body.
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A DVT is a blood clot inside one of the deep veins in the body, usually deep inside the legs. Edema in the legs is one sign of DVT.
- Varicose veins.
If edema is not very serious, it often goes away on its own. If a person has mild edema in an arm or leg, they can often make edema go away quicker by keeping the arm or leg raised above the level of the heart.
If edema is caused by a disease, that disease needs to be treated.
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Oedema Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.