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Heart Failure Health Center

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Edema Overview

Causes of Edema continued...

Edema and liver disease: Severe liver disease (cirrhosis) results in an increase in fluid retention. Cirrhosis also leads to low levels of albumin and other proteins in the blood. Fluid leaks into the abdomen (called ascites), and can also produce leg edema.

Edema and kidney disease: A kidney condition called nephrotic syndrome can result in severe leg edema, and sometimes whole-body edema (anasarca).

Edema and pregnancy: Due to an increase in blood volume during pregnancy and pressure from the growing womb, mild leg edema is common during pregnancy. However, serious complications of pregnancy such as deep vein thrombosis and preeclampsia can also cause edema.

Cerebral edema (brain edema): Swelling in the brain can be caused by head trauma, low blood sodium (hyponatremia), high altitude, brain tumors, or an obstruction to fluid drainage (hydrocephalus). Headaches, confusion, and unconsciousness or coma can be symptoms of cerebral edema.

Medications and edema: Numerous medications can cause edema, including:

Most commonly, these medications produce no edema, or mild leg edema.

Symptoms of Edema

Edema symptoms depend on the amount of edema and the body part affected.

Edema in a small area from an infection or inflammation (such as a mosquito bite) may cause no symptoms at all. On the other hand, a large local allergic reaction (such as from a bee sting) may cause edema affecting the entire arm. Here, tense skin, pain, and limited movement can be symptoms of edema.

Food allergies may cause tongue or throat edema, which can be life-threatening if it interferes with breathing.

Leg edema of any cause can cause the legs to feel heavy and interfere with walking. In edema and heart disease, for example, the legs may easily weigh an extra 5 or 10 pounds each. Severe leg edema can interfere with blood flow, leading to ulcers on the skin.

Pulmonary edema causes shortness of breath, which can be accompanied by low oxygen levels in the blood. Some people with pulmonary edema may experience a cough with frothy sputum.

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