Edema is swelling caused by the buildup of abnormal levels of fluid in
the body. In edema, fluid collects under the skin within the tissues that
are outside of the circulatory system. Edema is most common in the feet
and legs, but it can occur in the hands, arms, face, abdominal cavity (ascites), and around the lungs (pleural
effusion). Lymphedema is a type of edema where
fluid builds up in an arm or leg due to a blockage in the lymphatic
Edema may be caused by the following factors:
- Cancer itself,
especially kidney, liver, or ovarian cancers
- Some types of
chemotherapy, including cisplatin (Platinol) and docetaxel
- Other medications,
including steroids, corticosteroids, hormone replacement
anti-inflammatory drugs, and some blood pressure medications
- Low levels of protein in
the blood caused by poor nutrition
- Inactivity, which can
cause fluid to collect in the feet and legs
- Problems with
functioning of the kidneys, liver, or heart
People with edema may experience the following symptoms:
- Puffiness, swelling, or
a "heavy" feeling
- Clothes, shoes, rings,
or watches that feel too tight
- Decreased flexibility of
the joints in the arms and legs, such as the ankles, wrists, and
- Skin that is shiny or
feels tight or stiff
- Skin that indents when
pressed (in severe edema, the skin no longer indents)
- Sudden or rapid weight
- Decreased amount of
To diagnose edema, your doctor may perform a physical examination to
check whether the skin over the swollen area indents when pressed. Your
doctor may ask you questions about recent weight gain, tightness of
clothes or jewelry, and other symptoms. Your doctor may also order blood
and urine tests and x-rays.
Managing edema focuses on correcting the underlying cause of fluid
accumulation. Edema caused by medications or poor nutrition is reversible
in some patients. Edema caused by cancer itself or by kidney, heart, or
liver problems may be more difficult to treat and may be permanent. The
following suggestions may help reduce swelling and relieve symptoms:
- Ask your doctor about prescription
diuretics (medications that lower the amount of water in the body).
- Eat a well-balanced
- Reduce the amount of
salt in your diet.
- Walk, or perform other
exercises, to help pump fluids back into your circulatory system.
- Elevate the affected
area when sitting or lying down.
- Avoid standing for long
periods or sitting with your legs crossed.
- Wear compression
stockings or elastic sleeves to help push fluids back into your
- Do not reduce amount of
water or other fluids you drink without consulting your doctor.
- Physical therapy and/or
occupational therapy can help manage lymphedema.
PLWC Feature: After Treatment for Breast Cancer: Preventing Lymphedema