Edema—What Causes it and How to Get Rid of It

Monday Jan 14, 2013 | BY |
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EdemaSwelling in the legs is often caused by edema, which can be treated with at-home remedies.

About 4.4 million people in the U.S. suffer from edema. Also called “water retention,” edema is a condition where fluid accumulates beneath the skin somewhere in the body, creating a puffy appearance. It occurs most often in the legs or feet, but it can happen anywhere in the body, even inside where it’s not easily visible.

You can usually tell you have edema because you see the swollen area and the skin over it may look stretched and shiny. If the swelling is in your limbs, you may have trouble moving them. If the edema is in your lungs, you may have trouble breathing.

The good news about edema is that it’s often treatable with at-home and lifestyle remedies. Some of the more severe types may be treated with drugs that encourage the draining of fluid, but it’s better to discover what’s causing the edema, and to attack that cause from the source.

If you have mild forms of edema, typically you can solve them on your own, but it’s worth a check with your doctor to be sure there are not other underlying medical problems going on. Then, there are several steps you can take to encourage that fluid to drain and to get rid of edema for good.

What Causes Edema?
In general, edema occurs when the tiny blood vessels in the body (capillaries) leak fluid, causing it to build up in the surrounding tissues, leading to swelling. There are several things, however, that can increase the risk that these blood vessels will leak, including:

  • Sitting or staying in one position too long
  • Premenstrual symptoms
  • Pregnancy
  • Eating too much salty food

Certain medications, such as those that treat high blood pressure, certain diabetes drugs, estrogens, and even non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can lead to edema.

Some causes of edema are more serious, however, and may include:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Kidney disease
  • Cirrhosis
  • Cancer
  • Surgery
  • Arthritis
  • Thyroid disease
  • Deep vein thrombosis, or chronic venous insufficiency—weak or damaged leg veins
  • Inadequate lymphatic system

That’s why it’s important to check with your doctor if you’re experiencing edema of any kind, just to rule out any of these other more serious medical causes.

No matter what is causing your edema, it’s important to treat it immediately. Any fluid buildup makes your heart and kidneys work harder, which can lead to long-term damage.

Treatments for Edema
Mild forms of edema will typically go away on their own, particularly if you raise the limb above the heart for a certain amount of time each day. Standard at-home remedies to help the edema disappear include:

  • Movement: Moving the part of your body that is swollen can help move the fluid back to the heart and out of the body. Getting back into a regular exercise routine—even walking for 30 minutes a day—can help keep edema away.
  • Elevation: This is why, if you have edema in the legs, you’re told to prop them up in an easy chair or on a pillow or somehow at a higher level than your heart, to help the fluid drain. If you have edema in the hands or arms, you hold them above your heart for about thirty minutes three times a day.
  • Massage: Gentle stroking massage that pushes the fluid toward your heart can help remove it.
  • Compression: Compression stockings, sleeves, and gloves can all keep pressure on the limbs to prevent fluid from collecting in the tissue.
  • Low-salt diet: Those on a high-salt diet may be more at risk for edema because high qualities of sodium leads to an electrolyte imbalance, which can overtax the kidneys and lead to water retention. Cutting back on salt can help reduce edema.
  • Changing medications: If it’s found that the medication is causing the edema, your doctor may have you try another kind.
  • Stop smoking: Smoking can cause edema in the lungs, so stopping may help.

In addition to these standard treatments, there are other holistic remedies that may help.

Holistic Remedies
For other natural or holistic remedies for edema, try these:

  • Vitamin B6: A natural diuretic, vitamin B6 at 50 mg twice daily may help.
  • Herbs: Herbs that act as natural diuretics and may encourage fluid draining include dandelion, licorice root, and elderberry. All diuretics rob the body of potassium, so eat some extra potassium or add potassium supplements while consuming these herbs, and take them only until the edema is gone.
  • Drink more water: It may seem counterintuitive, but as you drink more, your body responds by getting rid of more water as well as other waste products, which can minimize swelling.
  • Diuretic foods: Try eating more celery, artichokes, parsley, and grapes, as these are all natural diuretic foods. Other options include green tea, cranberry juice, asparagus, beets, oats, and cabbage. Dandelion greens help the body metabolize extra fluids and are also a great option when you have edema.
  • High potassium foods: Potassium helps eliminate excess fluid from the body, so eat a few extra bananas, raisins, tomato paste and juice, white beans, soybeans, and kidney beans.
  • CoQ10: I talked about how important this supplement is on a former post. I’m mentioning it again here in case your edema is caused by reduced heart function—CoQ10 helps improve heart function and may indirectly help reduce edema.
  • Hydrotherapy: If you have swelling in the lower limbs, immerse the feet in warm water for about five minutes, then cold water for about 30 seconds. Repeat two-three times for the best results.
  • Homeopathy: Homeopathic remedies for edema in the lower limbs include apis mellifica, calcarea carbonica, ferrum metallicum, and ledum palustre. For swelling in other parts of the body, try bovista, kali carbonicum, lycopodium, and natrum muriaticum.
  • Mustard oil: This oil has a reputation for helping edema—warm some in your palms and massage the area gently toward the heart.
  • Coriander seeds: Another reputed remedy for edema, coriander seeds boiled in water may help reduce the swelling. Boil until the water reduces to have the originaßl amount, then filter and consume.

Do you have at-home edema solutions? Please share.

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog RenegadeHealth.com — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.

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