Anasarca: Definition, Causes & Treatment

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  • 0:00 What is Anasarca?
  • 0:35 Causes
  • 1:39 Symptoms
  • 2:12 Treatment Options
  • 2:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Anasarca is the medical term for a condition that causes generalized swelling of the body. Check out this lesson to learn more about anasarca, its causes, and how to treat it when it occurs.

What Is Anasarca?

Anasarca is the medical term used to describe the general swelling of the whole body, usually due to abnormal fluid retention in the tissues. It differs from other conditions that cause swelling; with these, swelling would most likely be isolated to a particular region or part of the body. Anasarca may also be called a massive edema or generalized edema. The term edema means swelling. When anasarca is present, it's usually a sign of a major sickness or infection in the body, meaning that it's not to be taken lightly.


Edema (swelling), in general, is caused by abnormalities in blood vessels, water retention, and blockages in the lymphatic vessels. While there are many causes of swelling, the following list includes several of the more common ones:

  • Burns and sunburns
  • Excessive sodium (salt) consumption
  • Heart failure
  • Albumin deficiency
  • Pregnancy
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Thyroid abnormalities

There are quite a few diseases or conditions that specifically cause anasarca. The following list includes many of these causes, though it is not exhaustive:

  • Congestive (chronic) heart failure
  • Eclampsia or pre-eclampsia
  • Hookworm
  • Liver failure due to cirrhosis
  • Kidney disease or kidney failure
  • POEMS syndrome
  • Extreme malnutrition
  • Extreme protein deficiency
  • Systemic amyloidosis (abnormal protein buildup in the organs)
  • Systemic capillary leak syndrome (also known as Clarkson syndrome)


The primary symptom of anasarca, by definition, is swelling all over the body. Fluids accumulate right under the skin, in what's called the subcutaneous area. With anasarca, most or all of the body looks swollen or bloated.

In some cases, additional side effects may include pain and difficulty urinating, though this is usually only found in males. Localized swelling (edema) is not necessarily a life-threatening or serious condition; however, anasarca usually results from a serious condition and should be treated as soon as possible.

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