Everything You Need To Know About Oedema
Oedema is a condition best diagnosed by a medical professional. It can be caused by medical conditions or by injury, the treatment for which will vary according to the source of the problem. Oedema can occur in various parts of the body, both internally and externally, the most common being swollen ankles, feet, hands and eyes (lids). In some cases, swelling of an internal organ, such as the lungs, or fluid collecting around the heart could cause serious problems.
What is Oedema?
Oedema, in common language is ‘swelling’, caused by a build up of fluid in the body which affects the tissues. It can occur almost anywhere in the body by an accumulation of fluid under the skin, causing puffiness, stretched skin and soreness and stiffness in the affected area. The skin may become discoloured, your body may ache and in certain cases, excessive weight gain may occur.
There are several types of oedema:
• Peripheral – affecting areas such as the feet, lower limbs and ankles
• Pulmonary – swelling around the lungs
• Macular – swelling around the eyes and eyelids
• Cerebral – affecting the brain
• Idiopathic – an occurring form of oedema where the cause is untraceable
Who is vulnerable?
Many people can be vulnerable to oedema, from the fit to the overweight, but even athletes, whose main enemy is sports injury. Pregnant women, particularly in the latter stages of pregnancy are particularly vulnerable, specifically due to the obvious weight gain during the third trimester. However, oedema can be symptomatic of deeper, underlying causes or even drugs that are being taken for other medical conditions.
Heart conditions, kidney problems, lung disease, enlarged thyroid or liver can all cause oedema. Equally so, drugs taken for high blood pressure or contraception can all result in swelling.
Another common cause of oedema can be found in people that have relatively sedentary lifestyles – i.e they work at a desk all day with little or no exercise, or are purely ‘couch potatoes’. Climatic conditions can also be a factor in swollen tissues – hot and dry (think central heating or mid-summer Mediterranean beach holidays!) or countries where the humidity in the air is excessive. Air travel can also be another factor, due to cabin pressure – the longer the journey, the more some people will be affected, but this can be short term.
There is, of course, very little that pregnant women can do to alleviate symptoms of oedema, other than report any instances to their doctor or midwife. A combination of light exercise plus resting periods with feet and legs elevated is almost all that can be achieved. It must however be correctly diagnosed, as the condition known as ‘pre-eclampsia’ can be the cause of very similar symptoms due to too much protein in the urine and a sudden escalation of hypertension (high blood pressure).
How can I treat Oedema?
Firstly, check the affected area that is swollen and painful. Press the swelling with your thumb without hurting yourself. If this action causes a dent which is slow to respond back up again, the likelihood is that you have oedema in that area.
If the oedema is caused by injury to the lower limbs (ankles and feet), such as a sprained ankle or pulled ligaments, the best treatment is rest, interspersed with an ice cold compress for around 20-30 minutes. The ice should not be directly placed on the skin, but wrapped in a small towel or tea towel to avoid direct contact. If the swelling persists, do contact your medical professional, although it may be just that the sprain or torn ligaments are taking longer to heal. Under no circumstances put undue pressure on the affected area, however much you wish to. Rest and cold compression with a period of healing should do the trick.
If oedema is caused by inactivity, and you are aware of it, try much more regular exercise. If you have a desk job, or spend long periods of time watching the TV, you must get up and move regularly. Even think about light gym work such as the running machine, just to get your body and mojo working. A ten minute walk will do you the world of good.
What about diet?
Diet can also be a major factor in helping to prevent oedema, and certainly being overweight is a major concern. Certain foods can cause oedema to occur, such as:
• Foods high in sodium (it is imperative to cut down on salt itself, or salt laden foods)
• Processed meats such as hotdogs, canned meats such as ham or spam, corned beef or luncheon meat
• Any other fatty meats – remove all fat and eat only lean meat or fish
• Starchy foods – cut down on high starch foods including potatoes, processed grains, canned pulses
• Limit intake of coffee, alcohol and carbonated fizzy drinks
Essentially, stick to a healthy diet to avoid oedema caused by an unbalanced diet.
Foods to eat to avoid or deplete oedema symptoms can be summarised purely by the word ‘healthy’ or ‘fresh’. Fresh fruits, vegetables, coated fish or fatty meats. If you stick to that principle, you will keep your body healthy and encompass all the essential antioxidants that fight off common diseases, as well as being macronutrient rich. Foods high in potassium such as cruciferous or leafy greens, citrus fruit and sunflower seeds are highly recommended.
Fresh herbs are also another great source of nutrition that helps fight against oedema, particularly parsley which acts as a cleansing agent and rids the body of toxins.
Other Treatments for Oedema
Other than cost-free healthy exercise and a change of diet, your doctor may recommend drug treatment for certain types of oedema by using diuretics to reduce swelling by stimulating your kidneys to produce more urine. There are OTC methods (over the counter drugs), but these are not recommended as you do not know the route of the problem without conducting an official diagnosis.
There are also a multitude of natural remedies available on the market which may provide strong relief from oedema. As everyone is different, this may be a ‘trial and error’ situation with the supplements, and you must consult your doctor before embarking on this course of action. If you are already taking drugs for other conditions, he or she will need to assure you about what you can take. Many natural plant extracts are used in supplements to help with oedema, such as nettle and dandelion extracts among others.
Other Tips to fight of oedema
Exercise of the lower part of the limbs, feet and ankles is key, without overdoing anything. A combination of rest and exercise that improves circulation will definitely help. For women, support tights or stockings will assist in keeping swelling down. If you are sitting down, regular rotation of your ankles to prevent fluid collection will greatly assist your circulation.
Whilst many cases of oedema are caused by fluid retention, you may feel that by slowing down on hydration will help – this is not true. You must keep well hydrated at all times to aid kidney function, but do avoid drinks previously mentioned.