What is swelling?
Swelling happens when fluid collects in small spaces around tissues and organs inside the body. The medical word for swelling is “edema.” Some common parts of the body where people can have swelling are the feet, legs, hands, arms and belly. In these locations, swelling can be uncomfortable and can be a symptom of a more serious condition. Swelling can also occur in the lungs or in the space around them. In this case, it is usually a symptom of a heart problem.
What are the symptoms of swelling?
The main symptoms of swelling are:
What are the causes of swelling?
- Increase in the size of feet, ankle, hands and arms.
- Puffiness of the skin, which can cause the skin to look stretched and shiny.
- Depression on the skin when you apply finger pressure.
- Difficulty to put on shoes and socks.
- Increase in belly size (with swelling of the belly).
- Shortness of breath (with swelling in the lungs).
The most common causes of swelling are:
When should I seek for medical advice?
- Problems with veins in the legs - cause swelling in feet, ankles and legs. Normally, the veins in the legs carry blood from the legs back to the heart. The veins have tiny valves inside them to help keep blood moving in only toward the heart. When these valves are damaged or do not work well, the blood cannot circulate and this causes blood to collect in the legs, causing swelling, pain and vein dilatation. Blood is especially likely to collect in the legs when people sit or stand for a long time without walking.
- Deep venous thrombosis – is the medical term for blood clots inside the deep veins of the leg. When it happens, the circulation is blocked and the blood cannot find its way to the heart. This causes swelling and pain in the leg.
- Pregnancy – pregnant women can have swelling in the hands, feet, ankles or face.
- Monthly periods – women can have swelling in different parts of their body before they get their period.
- Medicines – swelling can be a side effect of some medicines prescribed for diabetes, high blood pressure, pain and other conditions.
- Kidney problems – people who have certain kidney problems can have swelling in the lower legs or around the eyes.
- Heart problems – heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump normally. People with heart failure can have swelling in the legs, belly, or lungs.
- Liver problems – people who have certain liver problems can have swelling in the belly or lower legs.
- Travel – people who sit for a long time when traveling can have swelling in the lower legs.
Call your doctor if you have new swelling in one or both of your legs, in your hands or arms or in your belly. Swelling around your eyes early in the morning should also be informed to the doctor. Schedule an appointment with the vascular surgeon if you travel and sit for a long time, and then have leg pain or swelling that does not go away after a few days.
How is swelling treated?
Swelling can be treated in different ways, depending on the cause. Treatment can include one or more of the following:
- Treatment for the medical condition that is causing the swelling.
- Diet changes to reduce the amount of salt in the food that you eat.
- Medicines to help the body get rid of extra fluid.
- Compression stockings - are special socks that fit tightly over the ankle and leg. The vascular surgeon will recommend the appropriate type to wear and how to put them on.
- Raising the legs up above the level of the heart for thirty minutes three or four times a day can reduce swelling.
Not all types of swelling need treatment. For example, swelling that occurs during pregnancy or before monthly periods usually does not need treatment.
How can I avoid leg swelling when I travel on long flights?
To help prevent leg swelling on long flights you should:
- Stand up and walk around every hour or two.
- Wear loose-fitting and comfortable clothes.
- Ask if you can sit in the bulkhead or emergency exit row, where there is more space for your legs to move.
- Point and flex your feet, and bend your knees every hour.
- Drink plenty of fluids, and avoid alcohol excess.
- Not take medicines such as sleeping pills that can prevent you from getting up and moving around.