Edema is an abnormal accumulation of water in the body. Generalized edema used to be called dropsy.

About three-fifths of normal body weight is water, and this water is constantly being exchanged between the blood and the tissues.

Water is forced into the tissues by the pressure of blood being pumped around the body. Thanks to the water-drawing power of the proteins in the blood, water is reabsorbed from the tissues to maintain a balance.

Possible Causes

Various disorders, including renal failure and cirrhosis of the liver, can interfere with the reabsorption of water and cause swelling. Certain drugs and insufficient protein in the diet can also cause edema.

Up to about 15 percent excess fluid will normally only increase weight. After that, edema will show itself as swelling, usually in the lower parts of the body, like the lower back and around the ankles.


If possible, remove the cause of the edema. Make sure your protein intake is adequate. Avoid salt. Drink more water — this will usually reduce salt in the body.

When to get medical help If swelling is painful or long-lasting or unusual, get a medical opinion. Avoid taking diuretic drugs (water pills) unless directed by a physician.

Edema, see also: Allergies, Biochemistry, Constipation, Exercise & activity, Fats, Metabolism, Nutrition, Obesity, Physical aspects, Premenstrual syndrome, Purging, Sugar, Weight.

Updated 7 Sep 2015

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