To understand what might be causing your edema, your doctor will first perform a physical exam and ask you questions about your medical history. This information is often enough to determine the underlying cause of your edema. In some cases, X-rays, ultrasound exams, magnetic resonance imaging, blood tests or urine analysis may be necessary.
Mild edema usually goes away on its own, particularly if you help things along by raising the affected limb higher than your heart.
More-severe edema may be treated with drugs that help your body expel excess fluid in the form of urine (diuretics). One of the most common diuretics is furosemide (Lasix). However, your doctor will determine whether these types of medications are a good option for you based on your personal medical history.
Long-term management typically focuses on treating the underlying cause of the swelling. If edema occurs as a result of medication use, your doctor may adjust your prescription or check for an alternative medication that doesn't cause edema.
Lifestyle and home remedies
The following may help decrease edema and keep it from coming back. Before trying these self-care techniques, talk to your doctor about which ones are right for you.
- Movement. Moving and using the muscles in the part of your body affected by edema, especially your legs, may help pump the excess fluid back toward your heart. Ask your doctor about exercises you can do that may reduce swelling.
- Elevation. Hold the swollen part of your body above the level of your heart several times a day. In some cases, elevating the affected body part while you sleep may be helpful.
- Massage. Stroking the affected area toward your heart using firm, but not painful, pressure may help move the excess fluid out of that area.
- Compression. If one of your limbs is affected by edema, your doctor may recommend you wear compression stockings, sleeves or gloves, usually worn after your swelling has gone down, to prevent further swelling from occurring. These garments keep pressure on your limbs to prevent fluid from collecting in the tissue.
- Protection. Keep the affected area clean, moisturized and free from injury. Dry, cracked skin is more prone to scrapes, cuts and infection. Always wear protection on your feet if that's where the swelling typically occurs.
- Reduce salt intake. Follow your doctor's suggestions about limiting how much salt you consume. Salt can increase fluid retention and worsen edema.
Preparing for your appointment
Unless you're already under a specialist's care for a current medical condition, you'll probably start by seeing your family doctor to begin evaluation for what could be causing your symptoms.
Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance to prepare for common diagnostic tests.
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
- Make a list of your key medical information, including any other conditions for which you're being treated, and the names of any medications, vitamins or supplements you're taking.
- Consider questions to ask your doctor and write them down. Bring along notepaper and a pen to jot down information as your doctor addresses your questions.
For edema, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What are the possible causes of my symptoms?
- What kinds of tests do I need? Do these tests require any special preparation?
- Is my condition temporary?
- Will I need treatment?
- What treatments are available?
- I have other medical problems; will this treatment interfere with them?
- Do you have any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend visiting?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time for you and your doctor to review important points.
Questions your doctor might ask include:
- What symptoms are you experiencing?
- How long have you been experiencing these symptoms?
- Do your symptoms seem to come and go, or are they always there?
- Have you had edema before?
- Does anything seem to make your symptoms better?
- Is there less swelling after a night's rest in bed?
- Does anything seem to make your symptoms worse?
- What kinds of foods do you regularly eat?
- Do you restrict your intake of salt and salty foods?
- Do you drink alcohol?
- Do you seem to be urinating normally?
- Do you notice swelling all over your body, or does it seem to be in just one area, such as an arm or leg?
- Does swelling diminish if you raise the swollen limb above heart level for an hour or so?