Symptoms and Signs of Edema

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 9/19/2022

Doctor's Notes on Edema

Edema is the medical term for fluid accumulation anywhere in the body that typically causes swelling. Edema is caused by a number of different conditions, including heart failure, cirrhosis of the liver, circulatory problems, and kidney problems. Excess fluid can also build up in the lungs, known as pulmonary edema. When the fluid accumulates in the abdominal cavity, the condition is known as ascites.

Symptoms of edema depend on the exact cause of the condition. Common symptoms can be swelling of the legs and ankles. If pressing with a finger over a swollen area causes an indentation that persists for some time after the release of the pressure, the edema is referred to as pitting edema. Other associated symptoms and signs can include

  • shortness of breath,
  • mental status changes such as confusion,
  • fatigue,
  • increased abdominal girth, and
  • swelling of any part of the body.

The location of edema can provide the health care practitioner the first clues in regard to the underlying cause of the fluid accumulation.

What Is the Treatment for Edema?

Treatment for edema depends on the cause of the condition. Correction of the underlying cause can reduce edema and its symptoms and signs. General measures for people with edema can include restricting salt in the diet, using compression stockings, and elevation of the legs. Diuretic medications that remove excess fluid from the body are appropriate for many people with edema.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.