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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.
Follow your doctor's treatment recommendations. If you have long-term swelling, ask your doctor about the options to prevent skin breakdown, such as:
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.
If you notice any unexplained swelling, contact your health care provider.
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:
Tests that may be done include:
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.
Mitchell RN. Hemodynamic disorders, thromboembolic disease, and shock. In: Kumar V, Abbas AK, Fausto N, Aster JC, eds. Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders Elsevier;2009:chap 4.
Clein LJ. Edema. In: Walsh D, Caraceni AT, Fainsinger R, et al, eds. Palliative Medicine. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2008:chap 160.