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)
- Radiation therapy
- Generalised Edema: often a sign of severe illness
- Kidney disease
- Congestive heart failure
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Thyroid disease
- Hypoalbuminemia – low levels of the protein Albumin made by the liver
- High sodium diet
- Certain medications
TREATMENT STRATEGY FOR EDEMA
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
Encourage lymphatic drainage:
If on diuretics:
- Potassium aspartate
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
FUNCTIONAL MEDICNE TREATMENT OF EDEMA
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.