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What Is Generalized Edema?

The foot of a person with edema.
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  • Written By: Patti Kate
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 18 March 2014
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Generalized edema is a term used to describe the swelling of various areas within the body. Ankle edema is the most common type of this swelling, although generalized edema can occur around any joint or body part. The presence of edema typically signifies a serious condition or disease. Generalized edema can indicate several diseases, such as kidney failure and heart disease.

When swelling occurs within the body tissues, the area generally becomes puffy from fluid retention. Generalized edema can result in excessive fluids becoming trapped in body cavities. Swollen hands, feet, arms, and legs can be symptoms of edema.

In cases where the ankle and foot become involved, inflammation and swelling may prevent the patient from walking comfortably. When generalized edema manifests into cerebral edema, the resulting pressure that forms on the brain can be life threatening. Diabetic patients may suffer from edema that affects the eyes and vision. If not corrected, the pressure within the eye can affect vision or lead to blindness.

It is common for individuals who are immobile and do not walk or exercise to develop some form of generalized or local edema. In certain cases, blood clots can also develop in conjunction with swelling and edema. Those who have jobs that require standing or sitting for very long periods of time are also at higher risk for this condition

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Generalized or local edema can be one side effect from surgical procedures. The surgery site is typically prone to some swelling post-operatively. This is especially true of invasive type surgeries that require longer healing time. Oral surgery and dental work can also cause edema.

Women who are pregnant naturally retain excess fluid. Therefore, it is not uncommon to develop either local or even generalized edema during the last trimester of pregnancy. Typically, any edema that occurs during pregnancy should be alleviated after childbirth.

During menstruation, a woman is more likely to develop generalized edema symptoms. This leads to water weight gain and excessive fluid retention. This is generally not a serious condition and for most women the edema resolves after the menstrual cycle is completed.

Other circumstances can cause generalized edema or local swelling as well. A women who is taking birth control pills, also known as oral contraceptives, can often experience swelling and weight gain. This is typically due to the levels of estrogen the contraceptives contain. Hormonal imbalances, as well as the onset of menopause, can also cause edema symptoms in some individuals.

Some people who are predisposed or more prone to developing swelling and edema, may be advised to restrict their salt intake. This is due to the fact that sodium is known to cause water retention in certain individuals. The same effect can occur in some people who have deficiencies of certain B vitamins.

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