What is Dependent Edema?

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  • Written By: Lucinda Reynolds
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 02 July 2019
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Dependent edema is a condition in which there is an accumulation of fluid underneath the skin that causes abnormal swelling. This usually happens in areas of the body that are lower than the heart. The most common sites for dependent edema are the arms, legs, and ankles. There are several health factors that can cause this type of swelling.

The most common cause of dependent edema is congestive heart failure. This is a condition in which the muscles of the heart become too weak to effectively pump blood throughout the body. A symptom of congestive heart failure is swelling of the lower legs and ankles. If an individual with congestive heart failure does not get treatment for this condition, it could produce more serious symptoms.

Pulmonary edema is a more severe symptom of congestive heart failure. When an individual develops pulmonary edema, fluid can build up in the lungs and cause severe shortness of breath. If this condition is allowed to escalate it can become a medical emergency. Some people who experience pulmonary edema may need breathing tubes inserted into their lungs so their bodies can receive sufficient oxygen.


Another cause of dependent edema can be damage to the kidneys. The kidneys are responsible for removing excess waste and fluid from the body. When the kidneys become damaged, this can cause swelling as the fluid builds up in the body. High blood pressure and diabetes are both chronic conditions that can damage the kidneys.

There are treatments for this type of edema. The first thing an individual should do is to keep the swollen extremity elevated. This is the simplest way to reduce the swelling and to help fluid move back through the heart where it can be expelled from the body. An individual who suffers from swelling of the ankles and lower legs should avoid standing for long periods of time. This same individual should wear tight stockings called compression stockings to keep fluid from collecting in the lower extremities.

If the dependent edema is caused by a heart condition certain medications can help. An individual may take a medication that will control the heart rate or the rhythm. This can help the heart pump the blood through the body more effectively and reduce swelling. These types of medications are usually taken with a medication that increases the elimination of fluid from the body. It does this by pulling excess fluid from the cells to the kidneys where it can be eliminated.

If the edema is caused by kidney failure, it may be necessary for the affected individual to receive dialysis. This is a procedure in which the individual is connected to a machine that performs the same function as the kidneys. During dialysis, the machine will filter out excess fluid and waste and replace it with healthy fluid. An individual on dialysis may need a kidney transplant to be able to function normally again.


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Post 6

Many thanks for this good work. Please keep it up.

Post 5

@rs4life: "Dependent" in this case refers to parts of the body that hang below the heart. If you lie flat on your back in bed or on a couch and you put your left hand on your chest and let your right hand hang to the floor, your right hand is dependent. If your right hand swells up, and the swelling resolves when it is raised to your chest, it is dependent edema.

Peripheral edema refers to swelling in parts of your body that are farthest from, i.e. peripheral to, your heart. So peripheral edema is swelling in the lower arms, wrists, and hands, as well as in the lower legs, ankles, and feet.

Since your peripheral body parts tend

to also be dependent body parts, there is some overlap. However, if you raise, say, your right arm above your head, it is peripheral, but no longer dependent. I believe when it comes to edema they are more or less the same thing, i.e. a paper may refer to peripheral edema in a dependent limb.
Post 4

I am 22 and since I have been taking a certain medication it made my lower legs, ankles, hips and arms swell. I know to elevate my feet but what do I do for my hips and arms. I have stopped taking the medication however this hasn't helped? Please help.

Post 3

I am 7 months pregnant and I've developed terrible swelling in my feet and ankles. I've been told to reduce my sodium intake, increase my water, and be active. When I rest, I’m supposed to elevate my feet higher than my heart.

I have been following the edema treatment guidelines as much as I possibly can but have only seen a small change. My ankles look the best when they're elevated but the minute I lower them, they just swell up again. Honestly, I think the water just pools somewhere around my hips when they're elevated.

I know this part will be over in a few months, but I’m miserable and my shoes don’t fit.

Post 2

I'm wondering if there is a difference between dependent edema and any other type? What does the word dependent refer to? It seems that all edema would be dependent on something for the cause.

I ask because I was diagnosed with peripheral edema(hands and feet) of unknown cause. Does that mean that my type is independent?

Post 1

While some conditions, such as pregnancy, commonly include ankle swelling as a benign side effect, it usually is a sign of something worse, like the kidney and heart problems mentioned here. Definitely go to the doctor if you have that as a symptom and are not pregnant.

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