What is Edema?
Edema swelling can interfere with the patient’s ability to participate in regular, daily activities. There are alternative forms of care available that can be beneficial for patients who need to manage this condition. Edema means swelling. This condition can affect particular areas or the patient’s whole body. It is the body’s response to inflammation or injury, infections, medical problems, pregnancy, or medications. In edema, the blood vessels leak fluid into the tissues, which causes the swelling.
It is a common allergic reaction, but this condition might also occur as a result of heart, liver, and kidney diseases. Cerebral edema affects the brain, such as when head trauma occurs. It may also come from low blood sodium, high altitude, and tumors. Cerebral edema can lead to confusion, headaches, or coma. Many medications trigger edema, such as corticosteroids (prednisone), NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen), and others.1
There are two types of edema: cutaneous, also known as pitting, and non-pitting. In the pitting type, the act of pressing into the swelled area leaves a longer lasting indent. In the non-pitting form, the indentation does not persist for much time, such as in lymphedema. Malnutrition causes a type of edema known as kwashiorkor, which is due to protein insufficiency and low caloric intake.2 The most common forms of edema affect the legs, ankles, feet, hands, and arms.
Typical recommendations of medical treatments are to take medications to remove excess fluid and to have the patient reduce the intake of salt in their diet. If the swelling has a disease underlying its cause, that disease will also need to be treated. As edema is likely to recur when the cause is left untreated, and the underlying condition could itself produce further complications.3
Traditional Treatment Options
Diuretics are a type of medication which is used to treat edema. They work with the kidneys to help remove the excess fluid. Because diuretics cause a loss of potassium, patients need to consume high potassium foods, such as potatoes, tomatoes, orange juice, and bananas in order to make up for the medication’s side effect. Patients should always find out the effects of any medications that they are taking to see if there are any effects, such as the loss of potassium, which need to be counteracted.4
Home remedies for edema which a patient might try include moving and performing exercises for the muscles so that they can pump the excess fluid to the heart, elevation of the affected part of the body, massage and compression garments (stockings, gloves, or sleeves), and limiting salt intake. If there is another, more serious, condition which is the underlying cause, the patient might be able to manage the cause and symptoms on their own, or they could need additional traditional or alternative treatment aid depending on the severity of the cause. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is not the sole solution to every problem, but it could be helpful in treating many cases of edema.5
Treatment of edema is most effective when the underlying cause of the swelling has been identified, especially when a more severe condition, such as cerebral edema, is present.
There may be nutritional options which could help patients with edema. If food allergens are suspected to be the cause, elimination diets could be useful. Patients should consult with a doctor before eliminating too many foods from their diet, as they could be unintentionally removing foods which were not causing any problems. B-vitamins and iron may be especially helpful if patients are already taking diuretics as part of their treatment. Naturally occurring diuretics can be found in produce items such as beets, pineapple, leafy greens, asparagus, pumpkin, onion, and garlic. Antioxidant foods, such as berries, squash, and peppers, may also be useful. Avoiding red meats, refined sugars, alcohol, tobacco, and trans fatty acids are also part of a healthy diet. Many of these dietary treatment recommendations work well even for patients who do not have edema, as part of a regular healthy diet.
There are also some herbal remedies that could be able to help, such as bilberry, dandelion, and grape seed extract. Acupuncture may be a beneficial therapy for improving fluid balance. Not every patient finds that acupuncture works for them, but there are those who are satisfied with the effects of the treatment.6 Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) and Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT) are special massages that help to drain the lymphatic system. They are helpful therapies for pedal edema and lymphedema. Generalized edema should be treated differently because it is likely due to a systemic cause.7 Chiropractors can also work with edema. Cryotherapy (ice packs), diathermy (heating deep tissues), and ultrasound are chiropractic therapies that can treat the swelling condition. Some underlying causes, such as injury, might be treated through the application of chiropractic care.8
Get more information about lymphedema.