Edema (eh-DEE-mah) is swelling due to the build-up of excess fluid in the body's tissues.
Most often edema is found in the hands, arms, feet, ankles, or legs, but it can affect any part of the body, separately or as a whole. Signs of edema include stretched or shiny skin and dimples that remain in the skin after pressing down for 5 seconds.
Many things can cause edema, like eating too much salt, sunburn, insect bites and stings, and even some medicines. Certain diseases of the heart, liver, kidneys, and thyroid also can cause edema.
Treatment of edema depends on what's causing it. It may be as simple as taking an antihistamine if due to an allergic reaction. Or, if it's related to the heart or kidney, a doctor might recommend taking a medicine called a diuretic (or water pill) to reduce swelling. Also, wearing support stockings or cutting back on salt intake can help. If another condition, like a liver or thyroid problem, is causing edema, the doctor will treat that, too.
Edema can be a temporary nuisance or a sign of a more serious problem. It should be evaluated by a health care provider to determine the cause. If you see signs of edema along with difficulty breathing or chest pain, call 911 or go to the emergency room right away.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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