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10 Surprising Reasons Behind Your Edema

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Salt and too much water cause bloating, but did you also know there can be many other reasons? You may be surprised at some of the possible causes for edema!

Bloating and swelling is often a normal part of day-to-day hormone and fluid fluctuations, but it may also be a sign of a more serious problem. Edema is occasionally the problem, but more often, it is the sign of a more serious condition.

You know that too much salt in the diet and pregnancy can lead to bloating, but did you also know that there are many other lesser-known and more dangerous reasons behind edema? You may be surprised to learn that these 10 conditions may be causing your excess swelling.

How Common is Edema?

According to medical professionals, as much as 30 percent of people around the world suffer from edema on a regular basis. In some cases, the swelling is temporary and in other cases, the swelling lasts for extended periods. If the swelling is temporary, it is likely not a cause for worry (unless you have trouble fitting into your clothing), but extended swelling can indicate a bigger problem.

In general, women are more likely to swell, because women typically have a higher percentage of fat in the body. Fat cells are one of the storage facilities for water, which naturally increases a woman’s chances to see bloating. According to health experts, any swelling in the abdomen or extremities that lasts for longer than a week could be cause for concern.

Causes of Edema

Most people realize that PMS, high-salt diets, and physical injuries can cause edema. There are several causes of edema that you may not have heard of. Take a look at some of the surprising causes of edema below.

Heart Problems

According to The Merck Manual, edema is associated with heart problems- particularly heart failure. The signs of edema related to heart problems include painless swelling in the legs and feet. The swelling will remain indented after the area is pressed with a finger. This swelling combined with high blood pressure and shortness of breath (both while active and while lying down), can indicate heart problems that should be examined by a qualified health professional right away. In this condition, edema is a symptom that something is not right in the heart and can be an indicator of future heart failure.

Kidney Problems

Problems in the kidneys often have a side effect of swelling. The symptoms of kidney-related edema include swelling throughout the body (not just the legs) that remains indented when pressed with a finger. The swelling will be present both in the morning and at night. Most harmless swelling disappears the following day. Edema in the abdomen and around the eyes can be hallmarks of kidney-related edema.

Vein Problems

Vein problems are often a large contributing factor to edema, particularly in the legs. Edema can result from poor vein quality (called chronic venous insufficiency), which causes blood to pool in the legs and cause swelling. Another form of swelling results from blood clots in the arms or legs. Symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency include swelling in the lower legs, chronic aching in the legs (but no sharp pains), varicose veins, and reddish-brown patches on the legs. Symptoms of a blood clot include sudden swelling in the affected region and pain and tenderness in the limb.


Dehydration seems like it would have the opposite effect on the body, but a dehydrated person may experience bloating and swelling. This happens because your body goes into a sort of “water starvation” mode, where it tries to conserve water as much as possible. If you have bloating mainly in the stomach, it could be the result of dehydration.

However, if you have been drinking plenty of water, dehydration is unlikely to be the cause, and you may need to cut back a little on your water consumption. If you are forcing yourself to drink a large amount of water each day (like a gallon or more), then your bloating is likely caused by too much water.


Pressure on a limb can cause edema because it prevents the blood from flowing normally to and from the heart. Pressure can be caused by a variety of reasons but is usually due to pregnancy, obesity, or the growth of a tumor. If edema forms from these conditions, usually the swelling occurs gradually and propping the area will help reduce swelling. Aside from the tumor, most pressure-related edema is not life-threatening.

An Imbalance of Nutrients

Even if you have cut back on salt consumption, if you consume a lot more salt and water than potassium, and are not getting enough of the right kinds of vitamins, it could be causing your edema. According to nutritionists, you not only need vitamins and minerals in the diet, you need to right balance to maintain the highest functionality of your cells to minimize fluid retention. Most people are lacking in potassium, as it is not as prevalent as some other nutrients.

The right balance of sodium, potassium, water, and other vitamins in the diet is necessary to control edema. According to nutritionists, the body will metabolize fluid the best when it has high levels of vitamin B5, B6, D, calcium, and magnesium in addition to potassium and sodium.

Potassium is one of the most important fluid-fighting nutrients as it controls nerve function and muscle contraction. Potassium also regulates the flow of water in and out of cells, further reducing swelling. Potassium can be found in all fruits and vegetables and in nuts and seeds. Find the fluid-fighting nutrients in nuts and seeds, legumes, green vegetables, potatoes, milk products, fish, red meat, brown rice, and carrots and tomatoes.

In general, it is the balance of electrolytes that contribute to a reduction in swelling, which is why getting enough potassium is essential for edema prevention.

Essential Nutrients for Edema Control

Too Little Salt

Everyone knows if you eat too much salt it can cause swelling, but did you also know that too little salt can also lead to edema? According to edema expert Dr. Aggarwal, when the body does not get enough salt it signals the kidneys to conserve salt, which they do by reducing urinary output. The body constantly tries to preserve the right balance of electrolytes in the body, so both having too much salt and too little salt contributes to swelling.

However, most doctors agree that only a small amount of salt is actually needed- which is approximately one teaspoon of salt a day (around 2400 mg). Many processed foods contain high levels of salt- which is dangerous. Always check for hidden salt sources in processed foods. Even some spice mixes (like MSG) contain high levels of sodium.


Stress is damaging to the body in many ways and can increase your chances of obesity, stroke, insomnia, and a host of other problems. Stress can also trigger your body to retain fluid, which results in edema. According to Dr. Aggarwal, stress restricts blood flow to the abdomen, which causes bloating in that area. The body also produces more of a hormone called estrogen when the body is stressed, which prevents the kidneys from excreting salt in a normal way. This can lead to problems like liver disease, kidney disease, lung disease, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and a host of other health problems.


It is the job of the lymphatic system to drain fluids from the body. Usually, the lymph vessels drain lymph nodes of fluid that harbors foreign bodies like bacteria and viruses. However, when the lymph system is damaged, the fluid will build up which results in edema. This edema is often related to cancer treatments, but it may have other causes as well, such as cancer itself or other infections in the lymphatic system.

Other Diseases

There are a variety of other health conditions that may also increase a person’s chances of developing edema. These include diabetes, arthritis, lung disease, and hypothyroidism. Diabetes usually triggers edema due to excess weight, loss of proteins, liver failure, or kidney failure. Arthritis can cause edema due to inflammation of the joints. Lung disease can trigger edema because damaged lungs are unable to push blood through the lungs normally, resulting in swelling. A slow metabolism can cause swelling throughout the body, simply because the thyroid and other bodily systems are operating at reduced capacity.

Simple Ways to Control Edema

If you have edema; and it is not caused by any life-threatening issues such as heart problems, kidney problems, or blood clots- try implementing the following remedies to reduce the swelling in your body.


Stress is bad for you in a multitude of ways. Today’s lifestyles often lead to chronic stress, which places a huge toll on the body. Stress compromises your health by contributing to weight gain, preventing sleep, promoting constant inflammation, reduces the immune system, and leads to swelling and bloating. Eliminating stress will reduce your chances for all of these unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects. Try to take time to actively de-stress each day and you will benefit your health in many ways. Some easy de-stressing techniques to implement include massage, yoga, meditation or prayer, and taking a few minutes to relax before bed each night. This will improve your health and reduce your body’s fluid retention.

Take Edema-Reducing Supplements

If you are suffering from temporary edema related to vein insufficiency, obesity, or pregnancy, you may find it beneficial to take supplements that work to reduce swelling. If you are pregnant, consult with your doctor or midwife before taking any supplements as some supplements can be dangerous during pregnancy. The following supplements can be beneficial in reducing swelling:

Keep Healthy

Improved overall health will reduce edema. Not only will it reduce day-to-day swelling, but it will also reduce your chances of seeing edema from a more serious condition- such as kidney problems or liver disease. Eating a diet rich in healthy fats, vegetables, fruit, and clean meat will prevent many of the causes of edema; such as obesity, diabetes, blood clots, and liver disease. Regular exercise will keep the blood moving in the veins, preventing blood clots and other vein problems that can lead to edema.

Follow RICE

If you have temporary edema, many doctors prescribe the RICE treatment method. The acronym RICE consists of Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Rest with the legs or other affected area up. This will make it easier for the swelling to go down. Ice can also reduce swelling by contracting blood vessels. Compression will force the blood to move to another area of the body. Elevation encourages healthy circulation.

However, if the swelling does not go down by the following day, and there is no known cause for the swelling (such as pregnancy or an injury) consult with your doctor as soon as possible to eliminate any life-threatening reasons for the swelling.

Balance Your Electrolytes

Your body uses electrolytes to transfer electrical signals between cells in the body. This makes the balance of electrolytes one of the most important systems in the body to maintain. However, we often forget to take note of electrolytes when trying to eat a healthy diet. The body uses sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and chloride to send electrical impulses. The right balance of these nutrients will provide maximum health and prevent edema. If you notice any of the following symptoms, you may need to up your electrolyte intake:

  • Edema with dark urine- too high sodium
  • Edema with nausea or a headache- low sodium
  • Edema and muscle spasms or high blood pressure- low potassium
  • Muscle cramps and brittle nails- low calcium
  • Muscle weakness with arrhythmia- low magnesium
  • Mental confusion and muscle tension or spasms- low chloride
  • Weak muscles and weight loss- low phosphate

Edema: Not Just Caused by Salt

We think of salt as the biggest culprit for swelling and fluid retention, but the truth is, there are hundreds of reasons why the body retains water. Some reasons are life-threatening, and others are simply the result of an unhealthy body. In any case, edema is a warning sign that something is not right in the body. Never ignore edema and assume it will go away on its own. In many cases, edema is a symptom of something more serious going on in the body. Living a healthy lifestyle, eating vein-strengthening supplements, and keeping the right balance of electrolytes in the body are some of the most effective ways to prevent edema and many of the health problems that cause the swelling in the first place.





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