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Edema – Symptoms, Causes & Natural Treatment

Edema (or swelling) is the accumulation of excessive amounts of fluids in the interstitial spaces of organs, skin or other body parts.  

It is a common condition that affects 3% of the population at some point in their lives. (1)

It can be caused by a number of reasons with the most common being medications, heart failure or kidney and liver disease.

It may be generalised or localised to one part of the body only. 

  • Peripheral edema: occurs in the feet and legs; the most common location-
  • Pulmonary edema: occurs in the lungs
  • Ascites: edema in the abdominal cavity
  • Edema is categorized as either pitting or non-pitting;
  • Pitting edema: leaves a dent in the skin after you press the area for 5 seconds. By far the most common type
  • Non-pitting edema: does not leave a dent in the skin. Occurs in certain types of edema, primarily lymphedema or hypothyroidism

Causes of Edema

Many different causes giving rise to different types and location of edema:

  • Angioedema: swelling around the eyes and lips caused by an allergic reaction
  • Ankles, feet and legs: common, particularly in older adults. Causes may include:
    • Prolonged standing
    • Being overweight
    • Poor venous return and insufficiency of venous valves
    • Thrombophlebitis in the legs
    • Injury or surgery to the legs
    • Long haul flights
    • Congestive heart failure
    • Certain medications (antidepressants, calcium channel blockers, steroids, oral contraceptive pill, hormone replacement therapy)
    • Kidney or liver failure
  • Breast: generally occurs pre-menstrually or in pregnancy due to hormonal fluctuations
  • Joints: due to injury or inflammatory disorders e.g. arthritis
  • Lymphedema: abnormal accumulation of lymph fluid due to a blockage of the lymph passages. May be caused by:
    • Infection or injury
    • Surgery (especially mastectomy or removal of lymph nodes)
    • Tumours
    • Radiation therapy
  • Generalised Edema: often a sign of severe illness
    • Kidney disease
    • Congestive heart failure
    • Hypertension
    • Burns
    • Cirrhosis of the liver
    • Thyroid disease
    • Hypoalbuminemia – low levels of the protein Albumin made by the liver
    • High sodium diet
    • Certain medications


Will depend on underlying disorder

  • Identify / address underlying cause
  • Promote excretion of urine
  • Protect and strengthen blood vessels
  • Promote circulation
  • Encourage lymphatic drainage

Diet plan guidelines for Edema

  • Reduce sodium intake: especially from high-sodium processed foods and added sat. A good quality Celtic sea salt may provide a better balance of minerals
  • Increase dietary potassium: bananas, avocados, apricots, green leafy vegetables
  • Increase diuretic foods: asparagus, parsley, beets, grapes, green beans, leafy greens, pineapple
  • Ensure adequate protein in diet (high protein is contraindicated in renal involvement)
  • Promote circulation – garlic and ginger
  • If allergy-related, identify and eliminate food allergens from the diet

Supplements that support Edema

Promote urine excretion:

B vitamins including B6 & B1

Protect and strengthen blood vessels:

Vitamin C + bioflavonoids

Vitamin E


Encourage lymphatic drainage:



If on diuretics:

  • Potassium aspartate
    • Magnesium
    • Calcium

Herbal Medicine Treatment that supports Edema

Depends on underlying cause.

  • Diuretics (caution in renal failure) – blue flag, buchu, dandelion leaf, corn silk, celery seed, couch grass, cleavers, golden rod, horsetail, hydrangea, parsley (best taken as a cooled tea)
  • Anti-edema – horsechestnut, bilberry, butcher‘s broom
  • Collagen stabilizing – hawthorn, bilberry
  • Circulatory stimulants – ginkgo, ginger, prickly ash, rosemary
  • Lymphatics – cleavers, poke root, blue flag, calendula, Echinacea
  • Topically – creams containing witch-hazel, horse chestnut, butcher‘s broom, sweet clover, rue


Edema is a condition that can have multiple causes.  Clinically we find the condition is most commonly associated to venous insufficiency, pharmaceutical medication side effects, liver and kidney complications, nutrient imbalances and with hormonal dysregulation.

Treating the underlying cause of these contributing factors resolves the mechanism of the swelling and allows the body to return to a normal state.  Many of our patients report a dramatic resolve or reduction after beginning treatment. 

At our Perth clinic of Advanced Functional Medicine we most commonly investigate gut dysbiosis and bacterial overgrowth, SIBO, intestinal permeability, detoxification pathways, nutrient imbalances, methylation blockages and diet and lifestyle measures that call all impact edema. 

Resolving these underlying complications allows the body to clear toxins effectively and clear excess fluid from the cells and spaces between the cells.

If you or a family member are suffering from Edema we would love to hear from you.  What investigations into the cause of your edema have you conducted?  Have you resolved it, if so, what methods worked for you?  Please leave a comment below.

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The above information is intended to be general, educational advice only, on topics which are of interest to us. It is not intended to represent specific or individual health or medical advice and is not specific to your situation. The below information is educative and is not intended to advertise any service.

Before making any decisions in relation to your health, you should always discuss your individual situation with your own health practitioners to ensure that any advice you have read is right for you.

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper - ND is the founder of Advanced Functional Medicine Australia. He is a Naturopathic Doctor with extensive functional medicine training from leading practitioners in the USA and worldwide.

He is leading the way with advancements of functional medicine, clinically implementing worldwide best practices in Functional Medicine throughout Australia.

Jarrod consults in person from Perth, Western Australia and also online via Telehealth throughout Australia and worldwide.

If you are looking for personalised treatment, we highly recommend contacting Jarrod Cooper’s Advanced Functional Medicine clinic in Australia.

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