Edema refers to fluid buildup in the tissues of the body. This leads to swelling of the legs, hands, feet and other areas of the body. Fluid accumulates in the tissues when there is leakage from the capillaries due to damage, excess pressure or reduced levels of albumin. Edema may also occur in pregnant women. Conditions such as kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, liver cirrhosis and swelling of the lymph nodes may also be responsible for edema. Another common factor responsible for fluid retention is excessive consumption of salt. In some cases, edema occurs in the lungs. This is a serious condition known as pulmonary edema. It is important to seek immediate medical care in case of symptoms such as pressure in the chest, breathlessness or any type of difficulty breathing.

Symptoms of Edema

The common signs and symptoms of edema include:

  • Swelling of the tissues beneath the skin
  • Puffiness
  • Stretching of the skin
  • Dimpling of the skin after pressing the area for a few seconds
  • Enlargement of the abdomen

The symptoms of pulmonary edema include:

  • Coughing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Wheezing

Pulmonary edema can be a life threatening condition and emergency medical attention is necessary in case the following serious symptoms occur:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fainting
  • Pale skin
  • Sweating

Causes of Edema

Edema usually occurs when the body suffers from some kind of inflammation or injury. Skin infections, insect stings or joint sprains commonly lead to swelling due to fluid retention. Under certain circumstances this may in fact be beneficial, as in case of an infection, as the fluid enables a greater number of white blood cells to enter the affected part of the body. Underlying medical conditions and imbalances of various components in the blood can also cause edema. Some of the common edema causes include:

  • Reduced Albumin Levels: This is a condition known as hypoalbuminemia. Albumin is a type of protein present in the blood and low levels may be indicative of edema. However this is not usually the only cause of fluid retention.
  • Allergies: The body stimulates the blood vessels into releasing fluid when there is an allergic reaction.
  • Blockages: If fluid cannot be drained from a certain part of the body due to obstructions, edema can occur. Edema may occur in the leg due to the formation of a blood clot in the deep veins. Tumors can also result in edema by blocking the flow of lymph or blood.
  • Critical ailments: Serious illness, severe burns or critical infections can cause leakage of fluid into the bodily tissues. This may occur as a reaction of the body as a whole and result in widespread fluid retention.
  • Heart disease: Poor functioning of the heart in pumping blood can cause slow occurrence of edema. In case fluid accumulation occurs too quickly, it can fill up the lungs and lead to pulmonary edema.
  • Liver disease: Cirrhosis can cause reduced levels of albumin and other blood proteins, thereby leading to fluid leakage into the abdomen.
  • Kidney disease: Nephrotic syndrome is a condition of the kidney that results in edema, usually of the leg.
  • Pregnancy: The blood volume in the body increases during pregnancy. This, coupled with increasing pressure from the uterus, can lead to edema of the legs. Serious pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia can also result in edema.
  • Brain edema: Tumors, trauma, high altitudes and reduced levels of blood sodium can cause swelling in the brain due to fluid retention.
  • Medications: Edema may sometimes occur due to the intake of certain medications such as corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • There are certain risk factors that can increase the possibility of edema. These include:

    • Hypertension
    • Kidney disease
    • Excessive intake of alcohol
    • Smoking
    • Sedentary lifestyle
    • Past surgeries involving removal of lymph nodes

    Remedies for Edema

    Treatment for edema is aimed at resolving the underlying cause. Your doctor may prescribe diuretics or water pills for swelling. Diuretics are often not appropriate for use during pregnancy however. Heat edema is fluid retention that occurs when exposed to high temperature. Heat edema treatment should also never involve diuretics as they can further dehydrate the body.

    In cases like these where, conventional treatment with diuretics is not an option, doctors may recommend home care with lifestyle changes. Self-care measures greatly help in reducing edema and preventing future occurrences. Here are helpful natural remedies for edema.

    • Edema can be relieved by moving the affected part of the body. This helps to send the excess fluid back towards the heart. It is advisable to ask your doctor about which exercises are effective in relieving fluid retention.
    • Keep the affected area elevated for about thirty minutes so that the excess fluid can drain. This may be done thrice daily. You can also keep the area elevated while sleeping.
    • Massaging the swollen area enables drainage of fluid. Use firm, but gentle movements and direct your strokes towards the heart.
    • Your doctor may recommend wearing compression gloves or stocking. These help to maintain pressure on the affected areas and stop the fluid from accumulating.
    • Reducing salt intake is effective in treating and preventing edema. Seek advice from your doctor regarding how much salt intake is appropriate for you.
    • Home remedies for edema also include consuming a glass of fresh cucumber juice every day. This enables your body to get rid of toxins and also aids in healing.
    • Dandelion green tea is among the popular edema cures. It acts like a natural diuretic and eases swelling. The leaves of dandelion are rich in many vitamins such as vitamin A, B, C and D. They also contain minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium and manganese. To make dandelion green tea, bring a cup of water to a boil. Remove from the heat and then add a teaspoon of fresh dandelion. Brew the tea for 5 to 7 minutes and then strain. Drink 2 to 3 cups of dandelion green tea every day.
    • The herbs comfrey and coltsfoot are also common home remedies for swelling. Boil four cups of water and add a couple of teaspoons each of comfrey and coltsfoot. Boil for another 5 minutes, strain and dip a clean washcloth in the water. Place the cloth over the swollen area. You can repeat the treatment twice or thrice daily.
    • Warm mustard oil helps to alleviate swelling and may be applied to the affected areas. Instead of using oil, you can even soak some mustard seeds in water and immerse the affected area in the solution.
    • Apple cider vinegar is believed to help in treating edema because it aids in removal of excess fluids.
    • Add a couple of tablespoons of coriander seeds to boiling water and consume for relief from edema.
    • You can use a cold pack to alleviate swelling due to sprains. Place some crushed ice in a plastic bag and place it over the affected area. Make sure you also place a cloth between the pack and your skin. You can even make use of cold gel packs for this purpose.
    • For edema that occurs due to insect bites or stings, tea tree oil is a beneficial remedy. It helps to soothe the affected area and relieves pain due to its natural analgesic properties. You can apply a few drops of tea tree oil directly to the bite or sting area using a cotton swab. You can even combine tea tree oil with extract of margosa leaves and apply to the affected part. This will reduce swelling and help in healing.
    • Flax seeds are another effective remedy for edema. Crush some flax seeds into a powder and sprinkle over food. You can also apply flax seed oil to the affected area.

    Diet for Edema

    Edema may not always be caused by dietary factors, but your diet always does influence the severity of the condition and the outcome.

    • The main step in treating edema is to reduce your consumption of salt. Restrict salt intake to below 2100 mg of sodium per day. Eating salty foods can cause edema to worsen.
    • Make sure that you drink plenty of water every day. This will help in cleansing your system by flushing out toxins. It also gets rid of excess fluid in the body. Your daily water intake should be at least 8 to 10 glasses.
    • Avoid consuming processed foods such as packaged goods and junk food. Include fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. Also refrain from drinking caffeinated and carbonated beverages. Instead drink fresh fruits and vegetables juices.
    • A juice fast is sometimes recommended for individuals who suffer from severe or chronic edema. Going on a juice fast for a week or two is known to provide relief from fluid retention. However it is important to consult your doctor first.

    Suggestions for Edema

    Edema can get aggravated in extreme temperatures such as very cold or hot weather. Sudden changes in temperature can also worsen the condition. Therefore avoid taking hot showers or baths. Saunas should also be avoided. Ensure that you wear warm clothing when in cold temperatures and protect yourself from frostbite. In hot temperatures, take adequate precautions to prevent sunburn.


    1. Benedikt Wiggli, Edelbert Imhof, Christoph A Meier, Gerd Laifer, Water, water, everywhere, The Lancet, Volume 381, Issue 9868, 2–8 March 2013, Page 776, ISSN 0140-6736, 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61894-7.
    Edema - Frequently asked questions