What Causes And How To Reduce Swelling
Swelling or edema is a condition in which fluid moves into spaces between cells - usually located in the circulatory system - and obstructs the free passage of nutrients. Depending on the cause, swelling can be reduced using hot or cold packs and by resting the affected body parts. Equally beneficial can be trying massage therapy and cutting back on your salt intake.
The human circulatory system is a network of arteries and veins that supply blood and nutrients to each of our cells. The circulating blood serves many vital functions, some of which include keeping our body temperature constant, carrying nutrients and oxygen to cells, and removing waste and carbon dioxide from cells.
Blood is made up of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and a colorless component called plasma or serum. This is the same liquid that we see oozing out of a healing wound. In some diseases – and sometimes because of trauma – this fluid may move into the spaces between cells and interrupt regular blood flow. The areas where fluid accumulates swell up and become painful. Medically, this condition is called edema.1
What Are The Different Types Of Edema?
Edema falls under various categories, depending on the location of the swelling.
- The most common form of edema, peripheral edema is swelling in the ankles and feet.
- Cerebral edema affects the brain.
- Macular edema affects the eyes.
- Pulmonary edema affects the lungs.
- Idiopathic edema can occur in the face, limbs, or trunk of the body and its causes are unknown.2
What Causes An Edema?
There are various reasons an edema can develop3 4:
- Something as simple as staying in the same position for too long can cause swelling. Ever notice swollen ankles at the end of a long day? That’s a form of edema. This kind of swelling is usually quite harmless and clears up after sufficient rest.
- Swelling can occur when the veins lose the elasticity they need to pump blood back to the heart. This condition can manifest as varicose veins, which can also lead to swelling.5
- Diseases in any of the regulatory organs, such as the liver, kidneys, and thyroid gland, can cause swelling.
- During pregnancy, the growing uterus puts pressure on blood vessels in the legs. This can cause swelling or edema in the lower limbs.
- Lung or pulmonary edema is a dangerous condition that can make breathing difficult. It often happens due to congestive heart failure. As the heart works harder to pump blood, the smaller capillaries in the lungs begin releasing fluid into nearby spaces, reducing lung capacity significantly.
Why And When Is An Edema Harmful?
There are many reasons why an edema can be harmful to the surrounding tissues, and even dangerous for the individual affected. An edema becomes especially dangerous when it forms around internal organs or becomes unbearably painful. This is what can happen:
Toxicity: The trapped fluid prevents the free exchange of nutrients and toxins from the blood capillaries. As a result, cells in the area may starve or even suffer from toxicity.
Hindered respiration: The lungs are centers of gas exchange and an edema can prevent effective respiration.
Organ damage: Some organs in the body are encased in protective tissue. For example, the brain has the skull or cranium and the kidneys have a fibrous sheath. In such organs, even a slight accumulation of fluid can cause the organs to push against these barriers, resulting in organ damage.6
If the brain were to swell, it would push and compress the arteries against the cranium or skull. That would interrupt blood supply to the brain causing severe damage. Similarly, if there’s a swelling around the lung area, lung capacity can reduce significantly and lead to breathing distress.7
Infection: When an area is so swollen that it causes immense pain, or if there is redness developing in the swollen area, it could be a sign of infection and needs immediate medical care.8
Chronic swelling: When swelling is chronic, it usually means that there is something else going on. Many causes, from fluctuating blood pressure to veins becoming weak, can lead to chronic swelling. Since swelling prevents nutrients from reaching a certain area in the body, chronic swelling could turn into a more serious condition.9
What Are The Best Ways To Treat Swelling?
Like a fever, swelling or edema is only a symptom of an underlying condition. When the condition is identified and treated, the swelling will naturally reduce on its own. In the meantime, there are some home remedies that can help. Remember, if your swelling is accompanied by pain or fever, visit a doctor immediately.
1. Improve Circulation
Raising The Area
Putting a pillow under the swollen area can help raise it and get circulation going again. If you walk a lot and experience swelling in the legs, it may be advisable to take short breaks. It’s time to sit back, put your feet up, and relax.10 You should also avoid standing for long periods.
Hot And Cold Baths
Alternate hot and cold hand or foot baths often improve circulation. Start with 3 minutes in a hot bath followed by 1 minute of cold. Repeat at least three times. You can do such sets 2–3 times per day. Like all home remedies, consult your doctor first.11
2. Get Moving
If you are overweight, your doctor will likely advise you to lose weight through diet and exercise. The latter can significantly improve circulation. Staying active helps remove excess fluid from the body. Low-impact forms of exercise, like walking, swimming, and cycling, are especially easy on the joints.12
3. Wear Compression Stockings
Certain stockings can grip the limbs tightly and prevent fluid from accumulating there. These may be helpful in chronic cases.13
4. Eat Less Salt
Salt causes fluids to move out from the cells and into surrounding areas. Reducing your salt intake can be an easy way to curb this fluid retention and prevent swelling.14 Aside from cutting salt directly, steer clear of hidden salt by avoiding processed or packaged food, especially pickles, sauces, and prepared meat products like sausages
5. Try Leech Therapy
In cases of bone trauma or trauma to the nearby tissues, swelling may also occur in the bone marrow. Ayurveda recommends the age-old leech therapy to treat this type of swelling if it happens in the talus, the large bone in the ankle.15 A trained Ayurvedic practitioner should be able to guide you through this.
6. Give Acupuncture A Shot
In Chinese medicine, edema is believed to be a result of problems in the lungs, spleen, and kidneys. If and when any of these organs stop functioning normally, circulation slows down, resulting in edema. Acupuncture has a formula that describes the unique set of points to be used for treating different types of edema.16
As part of a treatment process, acupuncture was carried out on 122 patients who had developed edema following radiation therapy for cancer of the breast and uterus. The patients had various degrees of swelling in their arms and legs. Acupuncture proved to be effective in managing both edema and pain.17
7. Try Massage Therapy
Massage can be effective in reducing edema that originates because of sports injury. When a vein or lymph channel is compressed during a massage, fluid drains toward the heart. The accumulated fluid that caused the edema can then enter the blood vessels more easily, relieving pressure on the surrounding tissues and improving blood flow.18
Massage Using Essential Oils
The essential oils of chamomile, lavender, tea tree, juniper, fennel, and geranium have been found to be effective against swelling. Chamomile oil, lavender oil, and tea tree oil can all be applied directly on the affected parts and massaged. Add a few drops of juniper oil or geranium oil to your bath water and soak in it for relief.
Geranium oil can also be mixed with a carrier oil and then applied directly on the affected parts. Mix 15 drops of fennel oil with 15 drops of cypress oil, and about 30 ml of evening primrose oil and massage the affected area with this blend for relief from pain and inflammation.
Another remedy for edema calls for mixing 10 drops each of cypress, fennel, geranium, grapefruit, and juniper essential oils with half an ounce of calendula or sunflower oil (carrier oil). The blend should then be applied to the affected area and lightly massaged in strokes toward the heart. This can be repeated 2–3 times a day until the swelling subsides.19
Oil therapy for edema is quite widely written about but there is not enough scientific research to explain the workings of this therapy. It’s also a good idea to consult an expert practitioner for a remedy that caters specifically to your condition.
Massage Oils Recommended By Ayurveda
According to Ayurveda, individuals with kapha dosha are more prone to conditions of fluid retention and swelling. For such people, an anti-kapha oil mix can be prepared using mustard and sesame oil in a proportion of two to one, heated slightly and massaged at specific massage points. Deeply penetrating oils like camphor oil, menthol, eucalyptus, or wintergreen oil can be added to the mix as well.20
Dry massage at specific points is considered more beneficial for individuals with very high kapha dosha.21 You should consult an Ayurvedic practitioner so the massage can address your specific condition.
8. Use Herbal Treatments
Herbs can be used to remove excess fluid from the body and strengthen and tone the body’s systems. Different herbs should be used to treat pulmonary edema depending on whether the edema is triggered by conditions in the heart or not.
While garlic stimulates the immune system and lowers blood pressure, herbs such as rosemary, horsetail, and horse chestnut can help the body remove excess fluid. These herbs are safe for edema that has not originated because of any heart condition. For edema resulting from a heart condition, herbs such as astragalus, forskolin, ginkgo, hawthorne, and linden are advised. Do not consume any of these herbs if you are already on diuretics. They could also react adversely with blood-thinning medications and some other drugs, too. Consult an expert herbal practitioner and your doctor before starting any herbal treatment.22
While edema is frequently a temporary condition that goes away by itself, seek medical attention immediately if the condition persists or becomes painful.
References [ + ]
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|13.||↑||Onorati, D., G. G. Rossi, and G. Idiazabal. “Effect of elastic stockings on edema related to chronic venous insufficiency. Videocapillaroscopic assessment.” Journal des maladies vasculaires 28, no. 1 (2003): 21-23.|
|14.||↑||Luetscher Jr, John A., and Ben B. Johnson. “Observations on the sodium-retaining corticoid in the urine of children and adults in relation to sodium balance and edema.” Journal of Clinical Investigation 33, no. 11 (1954): 1441.|
|15.||↑||JINDAL, NITIN, MANOJ KUMAR SHAMKUWAR, and KK SIJORIA. “TREATMENT OF BONE MARROW EDEMA OF TALUS BONE BY JALAUKAAVCHARANA (LEECH THERAPY): A CASE STUDY.” Journal of Research and Education in Indian Medicine (Estt. 1982) 19, no. 1 (2013): 45-48.|
|16.||↑||Kuhns, Bradley W. Dr. Kuhns Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine “Made Easy”. Bradley Kuhns, 2011.|
|17.||↑||Bardychev, M. S., L. I. Guseva, and N. D. Zubova. “Acupuncture in edema of the extremities following radiation or combination therapy of cancer of the breast and uterus.” Voprosy onkologii 34, no. 3 (1987): 319-322.|
|18.||↑||Goats, Geoffrey C. “Massage–the scientific basis of an ancient art: Part 2. Physiological and therapeutic effects.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 28, no. 3 (1994): 153-156.|
|19.||↑||Essential Oils & Aromatherapy, An Introductory Guide: More Than 300 Recipes for Health, Home and Beauty. Arcas Publishing, 2014.|
|20, 21.||↑||Frawley, David, Subhash Ranade, and Avinash Lele. Ayurveda and marma therapy: Energy points in yogic healing. Lotus Press, 2003.|
|22.||↑||Pulmonary edema University of Maryland Medical Center.|