Edema is the swelling caused by fluid in your body’s tissues. It usually occurs in the feet, ankles and legs, but it can involve your entire body. Although not typically dangerous on its own, edema can be a sign of an underlying condition — such as congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, kidney disease or damage to your leg veins — that could be dangerous. Therefore, you should see a vascular expert for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment for your edema. Experts at Ohio State Heart and Vascular Center are experienced in diagnosing and managing edema, right here in Columbus.

Edema causes

Causes of edema include: 

  • Eating too much salt 
  • Heart failure 
  • Kidney disease 
  • Liver problems from cirrhosis 
  • Pregnancy 
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) 
  • Problems with lymph nodes, especially after mastectomy 
  • Some medicines, such as high blood pressure medications, steroid drugs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and estrogen 
  • Standing or walking a lot when the weather is warm  
  • Staying in one place or sitting for a long period of time 
  • Sunburn


The main sign of edema is swelling, which oftentimes begins in the feet, ankles and legs, but can occur in other areas of the body. You might also notice that the skin looks stretched or shiny.

If you have any of the following symptoms, you should see a doctor immediately: 

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Trouble breathing 
  • A feeling of suffocating or drowning, especially when lying down

These symptoms could be signs of pulmonary edema (excess fluid in the lungs often associated with heart problems), which is a serious condition that requires quick medical attention.

Diagnosis of edema

Your doctor will conduct a thorough physical exam and ask questions about your health history in general and your edema symptoms in particular. You may also undergo one or more of the following tests to aid in diagnosis or to rule out underlying conditions that can cause swelling: 

  • Blood test 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 
  • Ultrasound 
  • Urine test 
  • X-ray


Treatment will depend on the underlying condition that is causing the swelling.

In addition, to keep swelling down, your doctor may recommend some or all of the following: 

  • Keep your legs raised when sitting 
  • Keep the affected area clean, dry and moisturized 
  • Limit how much salt you eat 
  • Massage the swollen area 
  • Take a medication called a diuretic, or water pill 
  • Wear support stockings

Should I see a doctor?

If you don’t seek attention for your edema, the underlying medical condition that is causing the swelling can worsen. In addition, you may experience: 

  • Decreased elasticity of your joints, muscles, arteries and veins 
  • Increasingly painful swelling 
  • Reduced blood flow 
  • Risk of developing skin ulcers 
  • Risk of infection in the swollen areas 
  • Scarring between layers of your tissue 
  • Stiffness 
  • Stretched skin, which can be itchy and uncomfortable 
  • Trouble walking

Why choose Ohio State for edema care?

At Ohio State’s Integrated Vascular Center, our patients benefit from the coordination of experts in all fields of vascular care, from diagnosis and management of edema and vascular disease to complex surgeries and treatments not offered elsewhere in the area. Ohio State is a leader in the care of patients with vascular diseases, performing hundreds of vascular procedures each year.

Because of the expertise of our surgical teams and our experience in highly specialized procedures and advanced techniques, Ohio State’s Integrated Vascular Center is a regional referral center for patients who come to us from all parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky and the Midwest.

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