simply refers to the enlargement of a body part, which occurs when fluid accumulates in the tissues. Swelling is usually a secondary symptom of some other illness, infection or injury, a natural reaction of your body’s immune system to something that is not as it should be. Swelling can happen to any part of your body, including the organs, skin, or extremities, such as hands, wrists, legs
, ankles or feet. It is often harmless, such as when someone retains water or has been standing for a long time. However, like other immune responses, it can become dangerous in its own right, in addition to whatever condition provoked it in the first place. In some cases, swelling can lead to rapid weight gain over a short period of time.
SWELLING SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Swelling, also called edema or, when it is very serious, anasarca, happens in two different ways. The different kinds of swelling are called pitting and non-pitting. They are distinguished by the effect when you press down on the swollen area for a few seconds. If you have pitting edema, the pressing will leave a dent, which will slowly fill back in. If you have non-pitting edema, it will not leave such a dent. There are two types of swelling, localized and generalized. Localized swelling can affect one place at a time in the body, while generalized swelling can affect the whole body, and is a common occurrence in people who are seriously injured or very ill.
Causes of localized swelling can include an injury to the bone
or muscle, such as a twisted or sprained wrist or ankle
, which results from small tears around the tendon, or bursitis
, which is the swelling of the sac that cushions the joints
. Other causes can include infection, blood clots
in the veins
, allergic reactions
, insect bites, premenstrual syndrome, ulcerative colitis
, celiac disease
, varicose veins, preeclampsia, and cancer
. Burns or sunburns can also cause swelling of the skin.
Causes of generalized swelling include eating too much salt or sodium, which causes your body to retain water. In some cases, swelling happens simply because your fluids are not circulating well, and fluid accumulates in the joints. Too little albumin in the blood
or a lack of other nutrients can make your legs, ankles, feet and hands swell. Kidney
failure, lymphatic obstruction, and thyroid disease are all serious causes of swelling, as are nephrotic syndrome
and acute glomerulonephritis, both of which are kidney disorders. Many drugs include swelling as a side effect. Some of these drugs are steroids, both androgenic and anabolic, blood pressure medications, corticosteroids, estrogen, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), calcium
channel blockers, and certain diabetes
medications. Swelling can also be a reaction to surgery or other medical treatments, such as dyes used in certain procedures, or swelling in the arm
after a mastectomy
Swelling of either sort can be caused by the fluctuation of hormones
within the body, such as that experienced by women during pregnancy or before menstruation. In pregnancy, swelling occurs around the ankles, feet, hands and face due to the higher levels of blood and other fluids produced by the body during this time. Swelling in pregnancy happens due to high temperatures in the summertime, standing for long periods of time, long periods of activity with no rest, too little potassium in the diet, or too much caffeine or sodium in the blood.
This swelling is normal unless is occurs very suddenly in the face and hands, and then it may be a sign of preeclampsia, or high blood pressure
. Swelling also occurs at certain points in the menstrual cycle
, when a woman’s breasts
or belly may become swollen. Swelling also occurs when tissues move out of their normal position; one example of this is hernias in the abdomen.
In most cases, the treatment will focus upon the underlying condition that is causing the swelling in the first place. Once the illness or injury is healed or treated, the swelling will go down. In some cases when the swelling itself needs to be treated, your doctor may recommend the application of ice or heat, elevating the swollen body part above heart level, or reducing the amount of sodium in your diet. In many cases, simply resting will help the swelling to go down. You may be given diuretics to drain excess water from your system. You can also take non-prescription medication to ease the discomfort of swelling, such as acetaminophen
, NSAIDs including ibuprofen
, ketoprofen, or aspirin
. In many cases, however, swelling goes away on its own.
In some cases, though, swelling can be a sign of a serious problem and must be addressed immediately. If you experience rapid swelling of the throat, tongue
, or lips
, you may be having an allergic reaction and need medical assistance. Other signs of severe anaphylaxis
, or allergic reaction, include shock, swelling of the lips, tongue, ears, eyelids
, hands, feet, and mucus membranes, difficulty breathing, lightheadedness or confusion
cramps, hives, or reddening of the skin. If you are experiencing any of these, your swelling and other symptoms may be life threatening; you should seek emergency medical help right away.
In some cases, it is not possible to determine the severity or threat of the swelling without a medical evaluation. If you are treating your swelling at home, be alert for the swelling increasing or spreading, as well as for pain, numbness, tingling, or for your skin becoming pale, white, blue, or cold. Look for signs of infection, which include fever
or localized warmth at the area of infection, pain, redness, or draining. And if the swelling becomes more severe, or other symptoms increase, contact your doctor as soon as possible.