Trusted medical advice from the
American Academy of Family Physicians.


What is edema?

Edema is swelling or puffiness of parts of the body. Edema usually happens in the feet, ankles, and legs. It also can affect the face and hands. Pregnant women and older adults often get edema, but it can happen to anyone.


If you have swelling in your legs, ankles, and feet not related to an injury, it could be edema. It can cause puffiness of your face and hands, too. You can have swelling in all of these areas at once or in only one area. It can cause you to feel uncomfortable. It can even restrict the range of motion in your ankles and wrists.


Edema is caused by extra fluid that builds up in the tissues of your body. Many things can cause fluid to build up, including:

  • Gravity pulling fluid down into your legs and feet.
  • Sitting or standing still for too long, especially in hot weather.
  • Eating food with too much salt.
  • Taking certain medicines, such as ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • Some health problems, such as congestive heart failure, liver disease, and kidney disease.

You cannot catch edema from other people. It does not run in families. However, as you age, the veins in your legs often don’t work as well against gravity and to push the fluid back up. That is why this condition is more common as you get older.


Your doctor can tell whether you have edema by examining you. The skin over the swollen area may be stretched and shiny. Pushing gently on the swollen area for about 15 seconds will leave a dimple. If this happens, your doctor might want to do some additional tests.

Can edema be prevented or avoided?

Depending on what is causing your edema, you may not be able to prevent it from happening. If it is caused by health problems, such as congestive heart failure, liver disease, or kidney disease, you will not be able to prevent it, only manage it. If your condition is caused by eating too much salt, you will be able to prevent it by eating less salt.

Also, regular exercise such as walking can help lessen edema because it works the calf muscles. These muscles help push fluid upward.


The only way to treat edema is to treat the condition that is causing it. Your doctor might want you to take a medicine called a diuretic. This is also called a water pill. These pills help flush salt and extra fluid out of your body through your urine.

It is important to see your doctor if you have edema, especially if you are pregnant. If it is not treated, your skin may keep stretching. This can lead to other health problems. If you have edema and you start to have trouble breathing, call your doctor right away.

Living with edema

The following are some things you can do at home to keep the swelling down:

  • Elevate your legs when you are sitting or lying down.
  • If you have edema of the legs, wear support stockings. You can buy these at most drugstores. Support stockings put pressure on your legs to keep fluid from collecting in your legs and ankles.
  • Do not sit or stand for long periods of time without moving around.
  • Follow your doctor’s advice about limiting how much salt you eat.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What is causing my edema?
  • What treatment is best for me?
  • Is it safe for me to exercise?
  • Should I wear support stockings?
  • What lifestyle changes should I make?
  • Can you recommend any books or web sites where I can read about low-salt diets?
  • Is air travel safe for me?
  • Will my edema go away?
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