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Peripheral Edema - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

As you know, having diabetes makes you particularly susceptible to a host of ailments that, at first glance, may appear to be unrelated to your body’s difficulty producing insulin. However, a closer look often makes it clear that these conditions can be, indeed, intricately intertwined with diabetes and your approach to care. 

One such condition is peripheral edema. 

What is Peripheral Edema? 

The word edema itself, which is not always related to diabetes, is characterized by swelling caused by excess fluid in body tissue. This is often due to capillaries leaking fluid into surrounding tissues. Peripheral edema is when this occurs in the arms and legs. 


The excess fluid may cause the affected area to appear puffy or inflated and to retain dents for several seconds after pressure is applied. 

Symptoms

As discussed above, the primary symptom of edema is swelling or puffiness. If you can press on an area of your skin and an indent remains for a few seconds, it’s likely edema. However, aside from swelling, peripheral edema may manifest in the form of 

  • skin discoloration
  • weight gain
  • aching limbs
  • stiff muscles and joints
  • aching limbs
  • Strengthened and/or shiny looking skin

All of these are signs of peripheral edema, but if you experience any of the following, alone or in conjunction with swelling or other edema symptoms,  seek medical attention immediately, because these can be symptoms of pulmonary edema, which requires prompt treatment.

  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain

What Causes Peripheral Edema? 

Edema can be the result of a wide range of causes. If you’re experiencing symptoms you believe may be edema, you should see a doctor promptly to determine and address the cause, as this will allow you to address it appropriately and avoid the complications that can come with untreated peripheral edema

Water Retention

This is a fairly mild cause of edema that often occurs in pregnant and menstruating or PMSing women due to the shifts in hormone levels experienced at this time. It can also occur after a long flight, long periods of sitting or standing in one position, or eating too much salty food.. While it should still be discussed with a doctor, it tends to go away by itself. Edema caused by water retention usually manifests in the hands, feet, and face. 

Do not be alarmed if you think you have a case of edema caused by water retention. Employ the lifestyle-related treatment tactics below to aid recovery and simply keep an eye on the affected area and report to a doctor if it does not subside soon. 

Injury

A fracture, sprain, strain, or bad bruise in your leg, ankle, foot, or hand can result in swelling and pain. Inflammation can also be caused by infection or a torn tendon or ligament. Take care to protect your extremities from injury with proper foot care and clean any cuts or open wounds immediately to avoid infection. Also see a doctor if you believe you may have a muscular injury so that proper rehabilitation can ensue.

Low protein levels in the blood

Low blood protein albumin levels can be caused by extreme malnutrition or by kidney and liver diseases. These diseases dysregulate the amount of protein in the blood and can disrupt the natural and healthy balance.

Circulation Problems

In those who have venous insufficiency or general poor circulation, as many diabetics do, edema can be caused by the collecting of blood in the feet and legs, which ultimately forces fluid from the blood vessels and into the surrounding issues. Along the same lines, thin, spidery varicose veins can also be culprits. 

Kidney Disease 

Kidney Disease could cause edema in the arms and legs because of an insufficient ability by the kidneys to remove sufficient sodium and water from the body. This causes pressure to build in the blood vessels, which will, again, release fluid into surrounding tissue. Edema caused by kidney disease is especially likely in those who have a high amount of salt in their diets. 

Low altitude

Moving from a low altitude to a higher elevation in a short period of time can cause peripheral edema after about two weeks. The swelling decreases will decrease over time, and you can follow the lifestyle-related treatment options listed below below to help the process along.

Severe Lung Conditions 

Conditions like emphysema, often caused by years of smoking, can also cause edema in the legs and feet if the pressure in the lungs and heart gets very high.

Lymphedema

Lymphedema, or edema caused by damage to the lymphatic system, is caused by cancer treatments like those common in Germany which remove or destroy cancerous lymph nodes. Because the lymphatic system is responsible for flushing toxins out of our body, when they are damaged, buildup can lead to pressure and cause capillaries to leak fluid.  Lymphedema typically affects just one part of the body, such as the arm. 

Deep Vein Thrombosis

DVT, can also cause edema. A blood clot will block a blood vessel, often in the leg, and the resulting pressure from blood attempting to flow past the clot causes fluid to begin to pool. 

Medications

A number of medications are known to cause edema, such as birth control, many common blood pressure medications like Amlodipine, corticosteroids, Neurotonin (used to treat nerve pain), over the counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and tylenoal, and Pioglitazone and Rosiglitazone, both used to treat type 2 diabetes. If you believe that your edema may be the side effects of a medication you are talking, talk to your doctor about switching to another. 

Complications

While some cases of peripheral edema are mild, they should still be taken seriously, especially if they stick around. Left untreated long-term, edema can lead to:

  • Increasingly painful swelling
  • Stretched skin, which can become itchy and uncomfortable
  • Increased risk of infection in the swollen area
  • Difficulty walking or running
  • Muscle and joint stiffness
  • Heaviness or aching in the affected area
  • Scarring between layers of tissue
  • Decreased blood circulation
  • Decreased elasticity of arteries, veins, joints and muscles
  • Increased risk of skin ulcers

Clearly, it’s important to see a doctor about persistent edema to prevent more critical issues from emerging.

Edema Treatment 

The approach for edema treatment varies depending on its cause, which is why it is important to work out what that cause is with the help of a doctor. 

Water retention, for example, can be resolved with regular physical activity, a low salt diet, reducing long periods of sitting or standing in one place, and in some cases, weight loss. Diuretics, or water tablets, may also be prescribed in cases of water retention, as they help to remove fluid from the body. 

When peripheral edema is the result of medication side effects, then adjusting dosage, allowing time for acclimating to the medication, or switching to another formulation can clear up the issue without much trouble. 

For other lifestyle-related causes of edema, such as injury, pregnancy, or altitude, try the following methods to reduce the swelling 

  • Keep the affected limb above the level of your heart for several periods of time throughout the day, including while you sleep, if possible. 
  • Take breaks to move around during any time you would usually sit or stand a lot, such as during the work day. Excuse yourself to the restroom to get in a brief walk. If you’re on a road trip or completing a long drive, take frequent stops to  strength and move around. 
  • Supplement with horse chestnut, which can improve circulation.
  • Manage or lose weight if this is an issue for you. Being overweight can increase pressure and swelling in the extremities.
  • Engage in physical activity. You can talk to a doctor or physical therapist about what sort of movement will be right for you given your specific condition. 
  • Ask your doctor if wearing compression socks or stockings could help you. Diabetic Sock Club offers a range of affordable options. 
  • Massage the affected area to gently push fluid in the direction of your heart. Be careful not to apply too much pressure.

For peripheral edema caused by other underlying diseases and conditions, treating those first will typically resolve the edema. Just make sure that any medications taken do not list edema as a side effect. Engaging in exercise and maintaining a low-salt diet in the meantime can help to clear up edema faster and keep it from returning later. 

Prevention

Preventing lifestyle-related kidney disease involves many of the same actions as treating it, such as physical activity, a low-salt diet, managing weight, and taking regular breaks for movement during the day.

Beyond that, you can also work to reduce your risks for the conditions that cause edema, such as limited alcohol intake to prevent liver cirrhosis, preventing lung disease by refraining from smoking, and reducing risk of kidney disease and heart failure from developing through good control of blood glucose levels , regular exercise and a healthy diet. 

Talk to your doctor about the best way for you to go about preventing edema.

2 comments

  • Do you have compression socks for diabetics? Takes too long to place order.

    Barbara Dobbins
  • Do you have compression socks for diabetics,0

    Barbara Dobbins

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