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Swelling - Topic Overview

Causes of generalized swelling include:

  • Allergic reaction. Sudden swelling of the hands and face may be a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) and needs immediate medical evaluation.
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma. These diseases can cause swelling when the body produces antibodies and other cells that attack and destroy tissues in the body.
  • Medicines. Some medicines change how body fluids circulate, causing swelling. Swelling may also occur as an allergic reaction to a medicine.
  • Circulation problems related to certain medical conditions, such as peripheral arterial disease, heart failure, diabetes, or kidney disease. Thrombophlebitis causes swelling of an extremity when a blood clot interrupts blood flow in a vein in the arm or leg.
  • Fluid that accumulates in the abdomen (ascites) because of other problems, such as malnutrition, cirrhosis, or liver disease.

Some people may experience swelling as a reaction to a medical treatment, procedure, or surgery. Swelling from a medical treatment may be related to the procedure or to a substance, such as dye, used during the procedure. Swelling may occur at an intravenous (IV) site used during a procedure or at an IV site used for medicines given at home. Some swelling at the site of surgery is normal, such as swelling of the arm after a mastectomy. Lymphedema is swelling that occurs in an area around lymph nodes that have been removed (such as following surgery) or injured (such as following radiation treatments).

Swelling can also be caused by the fluctuation of hormone levels within the body. Some women may notice swelling from retaining fluid during their menstrual cycles. This may be called cyclical edema because it is related to the menstrual cycle. Some women experience mild swelling in their hands or feet during pregnancy. Swelling in the feet may be more noticeable in the third trimester of the pregnancy. Generalized swelling can be a sign of a pregnancy-related problem called preeclampsia. For more information, see the topic Pregnancy-Related Problems.

Swelling can occur when tissues move out of their normal position, such as hernias in the abdomen. For more information, see the topic Inguinal Hernia.

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