When there is a buildup of fluid in the body’s tissues, this causes swelling: a condition known as edema. The fluid actually comes from tiny capillaries that leak fluid into the tissue. Edema most commonly occurs in the feet, ankles and legs, but it can affect other parts of the body as well.
General edema can be caused by a variety of factors including pregnancy, an injury, venous insufficiency, obesity, side effects from certain medications, excessive sodium in the diet, a compromised immune system, or even by standing or sitting in the same position for too long (dependent edema). Underlying medical conditions (i.e., diabetes, congestive heart failure, kidney, lung, liver, phlebitis, and thyroid disease) may also cause edema.
Besides swelling, edema symptoms can include swelling, tightness, mild pain or soreness in the swollen area, and the skin may looking shiny, red or stretched. A podiatrist can help treat edema if these symptoms interfere in your daily life.
Your podiatrist will examine you, help determine the cause of your condition and grade your level of edema by conducting a pitting test. They will gently press their finger on the swollen skin for 15 seconds, leaving a pit, or dimple, in the skin. The size of the pit and how quickly it rebounds will indicate the severity of the condition, on a scale of 1-to-4.
Depending on the cause and severity of your edema, they may offer various therapies and methods to treat it. General edema may sometimes be treated by elevating the feet, limiting salt intake, doing gentle exercises, changing footwear, drinking more water, wearing compression socks or taking certain medications.
Edema can sometimes be a serious health concern. Seek emergency care if your edema is accompanied by shortness of breath, or if you are pregnant and get a rapid onset of edema, or if you believe your edema may be caused by a blood clot.