What is it?
Oedema is the medical term for fluid retention in the body. The build-up of fluid causes affected tissue to become swollen. The swelling can occur in one part of the body or it can be more general.
What causes Oedema?
Medications such as corticosteroids or contraceptive pill, pregnancy, infections and many other medical conditions such as heart failure, kidney disease, thyroid disease, liver disease and malnutrition can cause oedema.
However, mild oedema is common and usually harmless.
Oedema can also sometimes occur as a result of:
- being immobile for long periods
- hot weather
- exposure to high altitudes
- burns to the skin
Oedema can occur anywhere in the body but it's most common in the feet and ankles, where it is known as peripheral oedema.
Other types of oedema include:
- Cerebral oedema, affecting the brain
- Pulmonary oedema, affecting the lungs, is often a symptom of an underlying condition such as heart failure
- Macular oedema, affecting the eyes
- Idiopathic oedema is a term used to describe cases where doctors are unable to find a cause
- Lymphoedema which is caused when the lymph vessels, which drain away excess fluid, are damaged or blocked.
As well as swelling or puffiness of the skin, oedema can also cause:
- Skin discolouration
- Areas of skin that temporarily hold the imprint of your finger when pressed (known as pitting oedema)
- Aching, tender limbs
- Stiff joints
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Raised blood pressure and pulse rate
What should you do?
If you notice unexplained swelling anywhere on your body particularly if accompanied by other signs, you should check this out with your GP. Further investigation is needed just in case there is an underlying health condition that need to be treated.
Can you get rid of it?
Treatment will depend on the likely cause of your fluid retention. Often the oedema will reduce once the underlying condition is being treated correctly. Most cases will be managed by your GP but you may be referred to a specialist for further treatment and management.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution and no quick fix.
Mild oedema (particularly of the legs and ankles) is often the result of excess weight and lack of movement and is particularly common in older people who tend to be less mobile, so addressing these issues will help.
- Regular gentle exercise, including walking, swimming and cycling
- Losing excess weight
- Elevating legs eg. on a footstool or a recliner armchair, 3 or 4 times a day
- Avoiding standing for long periods of time.
- Eating a healthy diet low in salt.
You may be surprised how quickly the extra fluid disappears once your weight reduces, and you become a little more active.
How might it affect me in my every-day life?
Oedema in your legs will make them feel extra heavy and make it harder to move about. If your feet swell up as the day progresses, shoes may become tight and restrictive, so it may be worth considering Velcro-adjustable shoes.
You may also have difficulty bending at the joints (such as your ankles and knees) which might affect your ability to gain and retain your balance. This can impact on getting up from chairs safely and safely walking around in your home. Click here to view our riser recliner chairs that can help with this.
Moving and changing position in bed can also be harder, although you may well find oedema in the legs is much reduced in the mornings. Click here to view our adjustable bed range.
If you have pulmonary oedema you are likely to feel short of breath, particularly when doing simple activity. Although it’s important to stay as active as possible, with extreme shortness of breath due to pulmonary oedema, managing stairs may become impossible. This may be time to consider a stairlift.
You may also find it is uncomfortable to lie down flat in bed and might benefit from several pillows to help keep you sitting up more. A bed that will ‘profile’ will make things much easier. See our bed range above.
Its important to keep drinking enough especially if you are on diuretic medication (water tablets) so always have a drink to hand so you can sip frequently.
Avoid standing for long periods of time. This may be relevant if your work means you need to be on your feet a lot. Talk to your employer about how you may be able to take regular breaks to manage this.
When sitting, try to raise your legs up on a stool preferably level with your heart. Sitting in a good recliner armchair which can lift your legs high enough will help a lot. See our riser recliner range above. Also take regular rests lying on your bed with your feet raised on a pillow.
You may find it is harder to walk longer distances especially if you get breathless and this might curtail your ability to get out and about. Although you should consider getting some exercise, it might be worth thinking about a scooter or outdoor powered wheelchair to enable you to continue to do those activities you love. Click here to view our Scooters and here to view our Folding Electric Wheelchairs.
Equipment to help: