An excessive amount of fluid can develop in several locations around the body; this condition is called edema. One of the most common types of edema is the painless accumulation of fluid in the ankles, feet, and legs, which is sometimes called peripheral edema. A more dangerous type is pulmonary edema; a build-up of fluid in the lungs-which can be a sign of a serious condition.
There are several conditions and diseases that can lead to edema. Some are serious and even life-threatening; others are not. Congestive heart failure is the most dangerous. Failure of the left side of the heart can cause fluids in the lungs. Excess fluids can accumulate in the legs as the right side of the heart also starts to fail as well. Chronic organ conditions can also result in peripheral edema. Other conditions include a blood clot, leg infections, and chronic venous insufficiency. Standing or sitting in the same position for long periods of time, especially in hot weather, can result in edema. Pregnant women could also become victims of edema due to a potentially serious condition known as pre-eclampsia or because the uterus may put pressure on the vena cava, the major blood vessel that returns blood from the longs to the heart.
The best way to prevent edema is to prevent its cause. That means getting treatment for any diseases or conditions that result in edema, such as congestive heart failure, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. Do not smoke as this contributes to both lung and heart disease. When planning a long trip, be sure to drink plenty of fluid, get up and walk around or rotate the ankles and stretch the calves at least once an hour,and do not wear clothing that fits too tightly around the waist.
Edema may be classified as pitting or non-pitting. With pitting edema, when a finger is pressed against a swollen area for five seconds, a dent or pit is left behind that slowly fills in. With non-pitting edema, no indentation or pit is seen.
Pulmonary edema can cause shortness of breath, difficulty breathing when lying flat, waking up at night with a feeling of breathlessness, more shortness of breath than normal during physical activity. It can be a life-threatening condition and needs prompt medical attention. If sever symptoms develop suddenly such as pink or blood-streaked sputum, bluish or greyish tint to the skin, emergency treatment is needed.
Tests such as electrocardiogram, transesophageal (EKG), echocardiography (TEE) and a few others may be required to pin point the cause of the edema.
• Diet: Reduce the amount of salt in the diet to prevent and treat edema. Controlling fluid and avoiding alcohol may be important as well.
• Medication: Diuretics may be prescribed to help the body get rid of excess fluid. Other medications treat the underlying causes such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, or coronary artery disease.