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, where the act of pressing into the swelled area leaves a longer lasting indent, and the non-pitting form. In the latter, the indentation does not persist for much time, such as in lymphedema. The type of edema which is caused by malnutrition is known kwashiorkor. This is due to protein insufficiency and low caloric intake.2 The most common forms of this condition affect the legs, ankles, feet, hands, and arms.
Typical recommendations of medical treatments are to take medications to remove excessive fluid and to have the patient reduce the intake of salt in their diet. If edema has a disease underlying its cause, that disease will also need to be treated. That’s because the swelling 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 this condition 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
There may be nutritional options for patients with edema. If you suspect food allergens, elimination diets could be useful. B-vitamins and iron may be especially helpful if patients are taking diuretics. You can find natural diuretics in produce, 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. There are some herbal remedies that can help, such as bilberry, dandelion, and grape seed extract.
Acupuncture may be a beneficial therapy for improving fluid balance.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 this edema. Cryotherapy (ice packs), diathermy (heating deep tissues), and ultrasound, are chiropractic therapies that can treat the condition.8
Get more information about lymphedema.