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Edema Symptoms, Types, Treatment, and Pictures

What Is Edema?

Patient Comments

Edema (or Oedema) is the abnormal accumulation of fluid in certain tissues within the body. The accumulation of fluid may be under the skin - usually in dependent areas such as the legs (peripheral edema, or ankle edema), or it may accumulate in the lungs (pulmonary edema). The location of edema can provide the health care practitioner the first clues in regard to the underlying cause of the fluid accumulation.

What Are the Symptoms of Edema? What Does It Look Like?

Symptoms will depend on the cause of edema.

Peripheral edema

Symptoms of peripheral edema include swelling of the affected area(s), which causes the surrounding skin to "tighten." The swelling from peripheral edema is gravity-dependent (it will increase or decrease with changes in body position). For example, if a person is lying on their back (supine), the swelling will not appear in the legs, but will appear in the area around the sacrum. The skin over the swollen area appears tight and shiny, and often when pressure is applied to the area with a finger, an indentation appears. This is called pitting edema.

Picture of pitted edema
Picture of pitted edema

Pulmonary Edema

In the case of pulmonary edema, there is often no evidence of fluid retention or noticeable swelling on examination of the patient's extremities. This is because the fluid is backing up into the lungs. Signs and symptoms of pulmonary edema include:

  • shortness of breath,
  • difficulty breathing when lying flat,
  • waking up breathless, and
  • requiring multiple pillows to raise the head at night for a comfortable sleep.
Last Reviewed 11/22/2017
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Pulmonary Edema Symptoms and Signs

Pulmonary edema is a condition in which an abnormal amount of fluid builds up in the lungs. Symptoms an signs of pulmonary edema include shortness of breath while lying flat, decrease in exercise tolerance, wheezing, and difficulty doing activities that were once routine.

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