Swelling

Definition

Swelling is the enlargement of organs, skin, or other body parts. It is caused by a buildup of fluid in the tissues. The extra fluid can lead to a rapid increase in weight over a short period of time (days to weeks).

Swelling can occur all over the body (generalized) or only in one part of the body (localized).

Considerations

Slight swelling (edema) of the lower legs is common in warm summer months, especially if a person has been standing or walking a lot.

General swelling, or massive edema (also called anasarca), is a common sign in people who are very sick. Although slight edema may be hard to detect, a large amount of swelling is very obvious.

Edema is described as pitting or non-pitting.

Causes

Swelling can be caused by any of the following:

Home Care

Follow your health care provider's treatment recommendations. If you have long-term swelling, ask your provider about options to prevent skin breakdown, such as:

Continue with your everyday activities. When lying down, keep your arms and legs above your heart level, if possible, so the fluid can drain. DO NOT do this if you get shortness of breath. See your provider instead.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

If you notice any unexplained swelling, contact your provider.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Except in emergency situations (heart failure or pulmonary edema), your provider will take your medical history and will perform a physical examination. You may be asked about the symptoms of your swelling. Questions may include when the swelling started, whether it is all over your body or just in one area, what you have tried at home to help the swelling.

Tests that may be done include:

Treatment may include avoiding salt or taking water pills (diuretics). Your fluid intake and output should be monitored, and you should be weighed daily.

Avoid alcohol if liver disease (cirrhosis or hepatitis) is causing the problem. Support hose may be recommended.


Review Date: 12/10/2016
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.