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    Edema; Anasarca

    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).


    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.

    • Pitting edema leaves a dent in the skin after you press the area with a finger for about 5 seconds. The dent will slowly fill back in.
    • Non-pitting edema does not leave this type of dent when pressing on the swollen area.


    • Acute glomerulonephritis
    • Burns, including sunburn
    • Chronic kidney disease
    • Heart failure
    • Liver failure from cirrhosis
    • Nephrotic syndrome
    • Poor nutrition
    • Pregnancy
    • Thyroid disease
    • Too little albumin in the blood (hypoalbuminemia)
    • Too much salt or sodium
    • Use of certain drugs, including
      • Androgenic and anabolic steroids
      • Calcium channel blockers
      • Certain blood pressure medicines
      • Corticosteroids such as prednisone
      • Diabetes medicines called thiazolidinediones
      • Estrogen
      • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

    Home Care

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

    • Flotation ring
    • Lamb's wool pad
    • Pressure-reducing mattress

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

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    If you notice any unexplained swelling, contact your health care provider.

    What to Expect at Your Office Visit

    Except in emergency situations (such as cardiac failure or pulmonary congestion), your health care provider will take your medical history and will perform a physical examination.

    Medical history questions may include:

    • Time pattern
      • When did you first notice this?
      • Do you have it all the time?
      • Does it come and go?
    • Quality
      • How much swelling is there?
      • When you poke the area with a finger, does the dent stay?
    • Location
      • Is it overall or in one area (localized)?
      • If swelling is in a specific area, what is that area?
    • Other
      • What seems to make the swelling better?
      • What seems to make the swelling worse?
      • What other symptoms do you have?

    Tests that may be done include:

    • Albumin blood test
    • Blood electrolyte levels
    • Echocardiography
    • ECG
    • Kidney function tests
    • Liver function tests
    • Urinalysis
    • X-rays

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

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


    Skorecki K, Ausiello D. Disorders of sodium and water homeostasis.In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 118.

    Goldman L. Approach to the patient with possible cardiovascular disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24thed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 50.

    Dreskin SC. Urticaria and angioedema. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2011:chap 260.


    • Pitting edema on the leg


      • Pitting edema on the leg


      A Closer Look

        Self Care

          Tests for Swelling

            Review Date: 10/14/2012

            Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

            The information provided herein 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. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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            St. Luke's Hospital - 232 South Woods Mill Road - Chesterfield, MO 63017 Main Number: 314-434-1500 Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
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