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Causes of Chronic Edema & Its Treatment, Complications

Edema is the seeping of fluid from the small blood vessels, known as capillaries, into the surrounding tissues. This fluid gets collected in the interstitial space to give rise to swelling and many other symptoms. Edema is basically the medical terminology for swelling. Edema can either be acute or chronic. Acute edema develops all of a sudden and lasts for few hours or days. If the leakage and the resultant swelling lasts for several weeks or months, then the edema is termed as chronic. There are many possible reasons which lead to edema. They can be either linked to a health conditions or triggered by factors like prolonged immobility, gravity etc. It is important to find and understand the accurate cause for managing chronic edema appropriately without giving rise to any complications. Want to know more about the Causes Of Chronic Edema, Complications & Treatment Guidelines? Read the following article to understand edema, its complications and treatment better.

What Causes Edema?

Causes of Acute Edema

Edema can be chronic or acute. Acute edema generally develops in legs and is temporary in nature. Standing for long duration without moving the legs or sitting for long periods in one place can cause acute edema in the legs. This happens due to gravitational effect. Excess intake of salt or insufficient intake of essential nutrients is another cause of acute edema. Women often experience swelling in their legs and ankles few days before their menses and this type of acute edema resolves after periods. This edema occurs as a result of hormonal changes which take place in a woman’s body during her fertile period.

Causes of Chronic Edema

Causes of Chronic Edema

In chronic edema, the swelling persists for a long duration, i.e., for weeks or even months. There are many illnesses that can trigger or cause chronic edema and these include:

Congestive Cardiac Failure: This is a health condition wherein the heart muscles weaken and become incapable of pumping blood optimally to the body. This causes blood to accumulate in the extremities causing chronic edema. Fluid leaks out of the blood vessels and gets collected in the surrounding tissue to produce swelling or edema. This form of chronic edema can last for a long time.

Chronic Edema Caused by Kidney Failure: It causes retention of fluid and sodium in the body, which leads to edema or swelling around the legs and eyes.

Liver Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis of liver is a condition of chronic liver failure. In this condition, chronic edema often occurs in the abdomen and legs, and facial swelling may also be present.

Infections Which Cause Chronic Edema: Infections like filariasis produce chronic edema in the scrotum and leg. Filariasis is a disease which is triggered by W. bancrofti germs and spread through mosquito bite. In this condition, the lymph flow gets blocked to cause the swelling of the edema.

Chronic Edema Caused By Medications: Besides other side effects, prolonged use of drugs like steroids, NSAIDS, anti-hypertensive and contraceptive pills can also cause chronic edema.

Varicose Veins & Chronic Edema: In cases of varicose veins in the legs, because the valves of the deep veins weaken, the blood from the vein does not get pushed up optimally and rather stagnates in the blood vessels. This accumulated fluid eventually seeps out from the blood vessel causing chronic edema in affected lower extremities, i.e. the ankle and leg.

Treatment Guidelines for Edema

Treatment for edema generally consists of diuretics to remove excess fluid from the body through urine. The edema responds quickly to diuretics and the swelling reduces substantially in no time. However, in case of chronic edema, the fluid gets accumulated again because of the underlying pathology. Thus, to cure the edema, it is essential to detect and treat the underlying cause. For example, if the patient suffers from edema caused by medicines, then the doctor would need to reduce the dosage or change the medicine. In case congestive heart failure is causing the swelling, the patients would need to take proper medications to enhance their heart function and treat the edema. Conservative treatment for chronic edema includes massage therapy, application of compression bandage, reduction in salt intake, and keeping the leg slightly elevated when lying down in bed.

What Are The Complications Of Chronic Edema?

Some complications associated with chronic edema are stiffness and pain in the legs, difficulty in walking, ulceration of skin, dermal stretching, loss of skin elasticity, itching and cracks on the region affected with edema, formation of scars in the deeper layer and frequent skin infections.

Final Take

When experiencing the symptoms of chronic edema, one must seek immediate medical help. With appropriate and timely treatment, this health condition can be managed effectively.


  1. Mayo Clinic – “Edema” (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/edema/symptoms-causes/syc-20366493)
  2. Cleveland Clinic – “Edema: Common Causes and Cures” (https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/edema-swelling)
  3. Healthline – “Edema” (https://www.healthline.com/health/edema)
  4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute – “Edema” (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/edema)

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 22, 2023

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