What Is Edema? - Definition, Causes & Treatment

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  • 0:00 A Look at Edema
  • 0:56 Causes
  • 1:42 Treatment
  • 2:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jayne Yenko

Jayne has taught health/nutrition and education at the college level and has a master's degree in education.

Have you ever had a tooth pulled and your jaw swelled afterward? Or sprained your ankle and it swelled up? That's edema, a common response by the body to injury or inflammation. Discover more about edema.

A Look at Edema

Edema refers to swelling anywhere in your body, either in your entire body or just parts of it. It's most often noticed in the hands, feet, and ankles. Edema is a normal reaction to inflammation or injury. For example, a sprained ankle, an insect bite, or a surgical site may swell. This can be beneficial, because the increased fluid brings more white blood cells, which fight infection, to the area.

There are two types of edema, pitting and non-pitting. Pitting edema is when pressure is applied to the swollen area, and the indentation remains after the pressure is removed. It is the most common type of edema. Non-pitting edema is when the indentation does not remain when pressure is removed. Most of us have experienced pitting edema in very mild forms, just from wearing socks. When we remove our socks, we might notice an indentation around our legs where the socks were.

Causes

Edema is caused by the capillaries, tiny blood vessels in your body, leaking fluid, which builds up in the surrounding tissues. Mild cases of edema can be caused by sitting in one position too long, perhaps in an airplane; eating too much salt; and pregnancy.

Serious causes of edema include:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Kidney disease
  • Kidney damage
  • Chronic venous insufficiency - when the one-way valves (to keep the blood flowing back to the heart) in your legs stop working properly

Some medications can cause edema, such as:

  • NSAIDs, like ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Calcium channel blockers, used in heart disease
  • Corticosteroids, like prednisone
  • Thiazolidinediones - medication used to treat diabetes

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