Updated: 2021, Jun 16

What Is Peripheral Edema? Know Its Causes, Treatments and Symptoms

Known as peripheral edema, this medical condition can cause severe issues among the sufferers. This condition causes the swelling of tissues in the body. In the past, it was also known by the name of dropsy.

What Is Peripheral Edema? Know Its Causes, Treatments and Symptoms

What is Peripheral Edema?

Peripheral edema is the swelling of tissues in the body. Normally, this occurs in the lower limbs. It can occur in other parts of the body in some patients. This swelling is typically caused by the additional accumulation of fluid within the tissue.

Many different conditions can lead to fluid retention. When peripheral edema occurs, it is a sign that there are other problems within the body. If organs and the cardiovascular system cannot work correctly, water may be retained. This may cause pain or tenderness for the individual.

What are the Causes of Peripheral Edema?

This condition is often associated with aging. It may be caused by congestive heart failure or problems within the circulatory system. Peripheral edema may be a result of high blood pressure or altitude sickness. Individuals may develop if due to some kind of trauma, pregnancy or altitude sickness. In some cases, it could be caused by sickle cell anemia.

Many individuals develop this condition after a long day at work. If people spend too long sitting or standing without movement, water can pool within their legs and feet. Certain medications like amlodipine or pregabalin can make the water retention worse.

Peripheral edema may be a result of chronic lung disease or kidney disease. Individuals with a history of thyroid problems, liver disease or malnutrition are more likely to experience peripheral edema. In addition, corticosteroids, hypertension medication and herbal contraceptives can also lead to this medical condition.

Some cases of edema in the legs may be caused by some type of growth or cyst. Blood clots or varicose veins may cause water retention. Burns, high altitudes, hot weather or immobility are common risk factors.

What are The Symptoms of Peripheral Edema?

Symptoms of Peripheral Edema

Individuals that experience peripheral edema will develop water retention within their legs or other limbs. The skin may become puffy or discolored. Often, the limbs will become tender and may ache. Other symptoms include stiff joins and an increased blood pressure or heart rate.

Depending on the time of day, weight may rise or fall rapidly. Any water retention can cause weight gain. As this is resolved, the weight will naturally drop. To test for peripheral edema, individuals can press down with their finger on the affected area for 15 seconds. If the area remains dimpled after the finger is removed, they most likely have peripheral edema.

How Does Peripheral Edema Cause Water Retention Problems?

Peripheral edema is essentially a medical term for water retention. To be diagnosed with peripheral edema, individuals must have fluid retention and swelling present. Since peripheral edema is essentially water retention, it can be treated using the same methods.

Although peripheral edema occurs in the legs and feet, there are other types of edema that occur throughout the body. Pulmonary edema is when water retention affects the lungs. With cerebral edema, the brain is affected and fluid is retained. Macular edema is a kind of water retention that affects the eyes.

Warning Signs for Seniors and Caregivers

Most of the time, water retention can resolve without assistance. When peripheral edema is a result of long periods of standing or walking, individuals can avoid these actions in order to remedy the problem. Among seniors, peripheral edema can be a sign of more serious problems. Water retention can be a sign of liver, kidney or heart failure.

When the blood is not transported or filtered properly, fluid is retained. It could be a sign of diabetes in elderly patients or an indication of congestive heart failure. Any time that fluid retention occurs more than a couple of days in a row, individuals should see a doctor.

Elderly patients are at the highest risk for complications or underlying medical conditions. Caregivers should carefully monitor any symptoms and receive the assistance of a doctor if the condition worsens.

What are the Treatments for Peripheral Edema?

In minor cases of peripheral edema, the condition can be treated at home. If it is caused by standing for long time periods, individuals should sit down with their feet higher than their heart. Over time, this will allow the fluid to return to where it is supposed to be.

Natural treatment methods include losing weight or adopting a regular exercise program. Physical exercise can help improve circulation and make sure that all of the body’s organs are working correctly. Diuretics can also temporarily ease the fluid buildup. They should never be used for extended time periods because diuretics can lead to dehydration.

Since fluid retention can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, individuals should visit their doctor for treatment. For peripheral edema to disappear permanently, the underlying cause must be cured.


Melissa Feldman

Melissa Feldman is an independent research writer living in Toronto, Canada. She has professional experience as a researcher, and educa

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