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Information about causes, mechanisms, symptoms and treatment of edema

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What is edema or abnormal water retention in the body - how to treat lymphedema and other types of edema

By edema there is an accumulation of fluid in the whole body or body parts due to retention of fluid in the tissues, in the lymph system or in the blood. Most often the accumulation of fluids is  between the cells in the body tissues. This water retention causes the whole body or body parts to swell.

The body needs to have a specific volume of of water to function properly. There must also be a minimum fluid input for the digestive and absorbtion processes to function properly, and there must be a minimum fluid secretion to flush the wastes out of the body and to cool the body by sweating.

The input of water needed for proper digestive processes and for comfort is usually greater than the output of fluid needed for sweating and elimination of waste. This excessive input of water must be eliminated from the tissues and then through the urine.

By edema there is a retention of fluid either in the tissues, in the lymphatic system or in the blood, so that the excessive water input accumulates in the body. In severe cases not even that amout of fluid needed for flushing out waste is secreted.

The symptoms of Edema

Swelling of a body part or the whole body is the main symptom of edema. By a localized cause, the symptoms will be seen in the specific body part. When the cause affects the whole body, the legs are often the most swallen body parts. Edema affecting a limb, will give the limb a puffy appearance. Edema affecting the abdomen, gives abdominal bloadting.

The skin on an affected body part will often look thickened, swampy and inelastic. If you press down at the skin, there will often be a press mark taking some time to go away. Edema which gives such a press mark is called pitting edema. Edema not leaving a press mark is called not-pitting edema. Pitting edema is easier to treat than not-pitting edema.

About the fluids in the body and their circulation

The body has three main bulks of fluids. The blood is one. The other is fluid inside the cells. The third is the fluid between the cells. There are two fluid conducting systems in the body, the blood cystem and the lymph system. The blood circulates through the whole body. During this circulation the blood is distributed througout the body by the great arteries, and then distributed more finely by the smaller arterioles, and at last distributed throughout all tissues by the thinnest vessels, the capillaries. Then the blood is assambled again in steadily thicker veins and goes back to the heart and lungs.

Fluid with oxygen and nutrients also go through the walls of the capillaries into spaces between cells. In this way the cells get oxygen and nutrients. The other system of vessels, the lymph system, gather this fluid in steadily thicker lymph vessels and carry the fluid back to the greatest vein of the blood sustem again.

When the ballance of this fluid transportation is disturbed or the transportation is hindered, edema can be the consequence. This is especially through if the transportation of fluid in the lymph vessels back to the blood circulation is hindered. It also often occur when the heart do not mangage to pump blood effectively enough out into the body.

The causes and process of Edema

Lymphedema: A common type of edema is lymphedema, caused by impairment of the lymphe drainage. The condition occur often in the legs. Any kind of disease or injury that injures the lymphatic vessels or lymph nodes, can cause lymphedema, for exanple chronic infections. Lymphedema is a common consequence of surgery where lymphe nodes are taken out or lymph vessels cut. Serious lymphoedema can cause gross distortions of a limb, impairment of movement and serious infections in the affected areas.

Lymphedema is often of the non-pitting sort that do not give a press-mark when a pressure is applied to the surface of the edematous limb or body part.

Edema is a natural occurance by acute infection or by injury. However edema can become chronic or occur without any infection or injury. Since edema is a component of inflammation, any disease causing inflammation will also cause edema.

By inflammation edema is caused by tissue fluid leaking out through the walls of the smallest blood vessels ( capillaries) into the area between cells. The affected body part or region will therefore swell.

However some anti-inflmmatory drugs, like steroids, do not work well against this component of the inflammatore process, but can in the long run cause edema.

Edema by general water retetion: An impaired secretion of urine from the kidnies kan also cause edema. This can occur by kidney diseases. Edema caused by kidney disease usually affects greater areas of the body or the whole body.

An imbalance of mineral salts can also cause edema by impairing the excretion of urine from the kidneys, for example by too high consumption of ordinary salt - NaCl or too law intake of potassium and magnesium. Edema of these causes usually affects greater areas of the body or the whole body.

Edema by heart failur: By conjestive heart failur, the heart is not able to pump the blood through the body, and fluid accumulates causing generalized edema.

Edema by venous failur: If the veins in the limbs are not able to carry blood back towards the heart effectively, blood can fill up in the weins and cause edema.

Edema by pregnacy: Most pregnant women will experience at least some edema in the legs, often also accompagnied by swelling of the beins. Some of this is a normal adjustment of the body to the pregnancy condition, but often it gets out of normal proportions and gets highly unpleasant. Basically the extra pressure in the belly region during pregnancy hinders flow of lymph and blood backtowards the upper body. Inactivity during pregancy also contributes.

Edema caused by digestive problems

A digestive system with reduced activity causes constipation, bloating and accumulation of waste, especially in the colon. The colon will then get distended, which will also be visible and felt as an engorged belly. This engorgement can in turn hinder blood circulation and blood flow so that also fluid accumulates in the tissuses of the body, especially the abdominal tissues. Possibly can also toxins from the accumulated waste give that effct. Many conditions can give an inactive digestive system. Often however the cause is a bad lifestyle, with an unhealthy diet and too little physical activity.

About ascites - an edema-like condition

By ascites fluid accumulates between the organs inside the belly and the belly will then be distended, sometimes just a little, other times extremely. It occurs because water seeps through the walls of blood vessels and through the lining inside the abdomen (peritoneum) into the abdominal cavity.

One symptom of ascites is a distended abdomen, especially if it is distendid at the flanks and in a person that is not fat. The content that distend the abdomen will change place when a person shifts position from sitting or standing to laying, from laying at the back to a side or from laying at one side to the other side. By shaking parts of the abdomen between two hands one can often hear and feel fluid lapping. The abdomen is typically felt heavy, and the breathing may be felt heavy.

Ascites is often caused by serious condition. The most common cause is liver disease, especially cirrosis. Another cause is heart failur, especially failur of the right side of the heart. A third cause are disease processes in the peritomeum or organs surrounded by peritoneum, for example cancer or inflammations. Such processes injure the tissue so that fluid can leak through it.

Generally about edema treatment

By edema, the underlying disease must be determined and treated if it is possible. Often this is not possible to get totally rid of the disease, or the causal treatment takes a long time. In these cases treatment has to be directed against the edema itself. Treatment against edema as a symptom will also allway be useful when you wait for the result of the treatment for the underlying cause. By edema there is also nearly allways some lifestyle factors that are part of the cause. Therefore one should allways make necessary lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle advices to help against edema and other simple measures

Reducing the consume of salt is an effective advice if you have a high salt consume, since salt tend to cause water retention in the body.

Furnishing extra potassiom and magnesium in the diet may help. A right ballance between these to minerals and natrium which is the mineral in ordinary salt isimportant for the water ballance.

Hold the legs or other swallen body parts high during rest. Lying with elevated legs for some time is often effective against edema in the legs, including edema by pregnancy.

Change frequently position when you sit or lie.

Have some daily exercize adjusted to your health condition.This could be walking, cycling, swimming, running or any other sport activity where you use greater parts of your body. Doing regular stretching exercises or yoga is useful. By severe edema special therapeutic exercises should be prescribed by a professional.

Having a daily healthy diet that reduces inflammation and supports good digestion is an important measure. Such a diet is based on natural ingredients like vegetables, fruit, whole corn bread and cereals, fish, foul, nuts almonds and lean meat. The diet contains olive oil, flax oil, and other fat sources that give omega-3-fat and mono-unsaturated fat, but little of other types of fat.

Eating some fruit and vegatables to each meal is important. Citrus fruits are often reported to give good effects against edema. Fruits and vegetables with a high amount of calcium are also reported to help reduce edema, like: Apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, kiwi, lima beans, nectarines, spinach, sweet potatoes, raisins, pears, prunes and pumpkin

Have It is very important to take well care of the skin on body parts affected by edema. This skin has a poor fluid circulation and gets easily injured and the injuries will heal poorely. The skin must be cleaned well with daily wash. It should be moisturated with creams that gives moisture and elasticity. Anti-microbic creams or washes may be necessary. Sores must be cleaned well, disinfected and covered. Creams and washes to fulfill these purposes are found both in pharmacological and natural verisons.


Massage and physical treatment of Edema

Special kind of massage and physical therapies can be useful against edema, but they must be performed the right way or they can give the opposite result. Especially can hard massage that greatly increases the bloodflow to the swallen limb give the opposite result because the lymph system does not manage to drain the extra fluid thus furnished from the blood. Preferably such treatments should be done by a professional or after advice from a professional. if the body part is inflamed or injured you should not massage upon it at all.

You can try to massage very gently the swallen body part in the natural direction of the blood flow towards the heart. If the reaction is good and it helps against the swelling, you can proceed do to so regularly. If it does not help or it causes a worsening, it is not good to proceed.

Elastic stockings or gloves can be useful for edema in the limbs. These are to be used during the daily life.

Inflatable garment to keep the swelling down and help the circulation of lymph and blood back towards the heart is an option. One mounts the garment and lay resting some while with the equipment mounted.

Still another practical treatment are air pumps combined with inflatable garments that excert a pumping action around a limb and thereby help the flow back of lymph and blood. Complete decongestive therapy is a complete set of edema treatment techniques done by a professional person combined with self-care instructed by the professional. The techniques used are: Manual lymphatic drainage, compression bandaging, therapeutic exercise and skin care.

Treatment of edema with medicines or natural products

Fysicians will often prescibe diuretics to treat edema, those are drugs that incease the urine production and thus help the body to get rid of the extra fluid content.

Some coffee each day can increase the urine production and make the digestive system work faster, and that will help for edema. Too much coffee can however disturb the digestive process and give the opposite effect.

You also find on  the market herbal medicines that intend to help for edema by several actions: Improving the water and salt balance, stimulating the heart and blood vessels to work more dynamically, stimulating tissue repair in blood and lumph vessels and reducing inflammation.

Pycnogenol, an extract from the bark of the French Maritime pine has shown promising effects against edema according to scientific studies.

Some people report that a procedure called "oil pulling helps for edema. It consists of rinsing the mouth with one tablespoon of natural oil for 15-20 minutes and then spitting the oil out. It is done in the morning before eating. Sesame or sunflower oils are usually recommended for this use.

A serious case of edma, the type lymphedema, before treatment

A serious case of edma, the type lymphedema, after treatment

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is nutritional in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. This notice is required by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.