Pitting Edema

Sometimes parts of your body swell and get puffy. This is called edema. It usually happens in your feet, ankles, or legs, but you also might notice it in your face, hands, arms, or other areas.

If you press your finger to a swollen area and it leaves a dimple that doesn't go away after a few seconds, you have what's called a pitting edema. This might get better on its own without treatment. But it also can be a sign of a serious health issue.

Other Symptoms

You may notice a full or heavy feeling in the swollen area. Clothing or jewelry will feel tight and maybe even painful. If it's near a joint, you may find it hard to move.

Diagnosis

If you notice signs of pitting edema, see your doctor as soon as you can. He'll look at it and ask about other symptoms. He may test your blood or urine to check your liver or kidney function. You might have an electrocardiogram and other tests to check your heart.

Get emergency medical help right away if you have chest pain that lasts more than a few minutes, trouble breathing, dizziness, confusion, or fainting spells. These are signs that you might have a severe heart problem or a blood clot in your lungs.

Causes

Edema is caused by extra fluid in your tissues. This can happen for many reasons. You may have been standing or sitting too long, for instance like during a plane flight. It could also be an allergic reaction to or side effect of a medicine.

Some drugs for diabetes and high blood pressure can cause pitting edema. So can estrogen pills and over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen.

Women hold onto more fluid when they're pregnant and can develop a pitting edema. This tends to happen toward the end of pregnancy. Talk with your doctor if you are pregnant and develop edema.

For some people, pitting edema can be a sign of a more serious health issue, such as:

  • Blood clot: One of these in a deep vein can cause edema in the region of the clot. This is called "deep vein thrombosis," or DVT. If a DVT is present in one leg, edema may be present in just one leg.
  • Congestive heart failure: If your heart is too weak to pump blood around your body as it should, fluid will build up in your tissue. Many people with heart problems get swelling in their legs.
  • Kidney disease: It's your kidneys' job to get rid of extra salt and water from your body. If they aren't working right, you can develop high blood pressure and pitting edema.
  • Liver disease: If blood isn't flowing normally through your liver, edema can form in your lower legs.
  • Lung disease: If the pressure in your heart or lungs gets too high because of a disease like emphysema, pitting edema can show up in your legs or feet.
  • Vein problems: If your veins have trouble bringing blood back up from your feet to your heart, it can start to pool in your feet and ankles. Extra fluid leaks out of your blood vessels and into nearby tissue.

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Treatment

If something serious is the cause of your edema, your doctor will focus on treating the underlying cause. But you may need to eat less salt. Table salt and processed foods with a lot of sodium can make your swelling worse. You also may need to take a drug called a diuretic that helps your body get rid of extra fluid.

Compression stockings, sleeves, or gloves can keep pressure on the swollen area to stop fluid from building up. Your doctor also may tell you to hold the part of your body with the pitted edema above your heart a few times during the day or to keep it raised while you sleep.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on November 10, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Family Physician: "Edema: Diagnosis and Management."

Cho, S. The American Journal of Medicine, November 2002.

Ely, J. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, March-April 2006.

Mayo Clinic: "Leg Swelling," "Edema."

Physician Education Program: "Edema."

US National Library of Medicine: "Causes and Signs of Edema."

UpToDate: "Patient Information: Edema (Swelling) (Beyond the Basics)."

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