Anasarca: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis

What is Anasarca?

Anasarca occurs when there is generalized swelling of the body. This happens when there is excessive fluid retained by the tissues of the body. It is also known by the name of generalized edema. The collection of fluid within the tissues can be due to a medical condition which alter the protein levels of the body or create fluid imbalance. Abnormalities of the blood vessels also at times cause fluid to be retained by the tissues of the body causing swelling.[1]

Anasarca, however, is often an indication of a potentially serious underlying medical condition related to damage to an organ of the body. It should be noted here that Anasarca is not a medical condition by itself but is rather a symptom of an underlying illness.[1]

What is Anasarca?

Anasarca and edema are two different entities. Swelling is quite common and can occur due to injury, trauma, dehydration, or even due to side effects of some medication. In some instances, swelling is observed only in certain areas of the body like the upper and lower extremities. This is due to certain medical conditions like cardiac abnormalities. However, in Anasarca there is observable swelling throughout the body that is quite severe. In some cases, the swelling may be so prominent that it makes simple movement quite difficult.[1]

What Causes Anasarca?

There are numerous causes for Anasarca. It is mainly as a result of an indwelling medical condition. Some of these conditions are common while some are quite rare. Some of the conditions that can cause Anasarca include:[1]

IV Fluid Administration: This is quite a common sight in hospital settings. IV fluids are used to deliver medications and nutrition to patients. However, if the body is not able to taken in the fluids administered it causes accumulation and resulting edema and Anasarca.[1]

Renal Dysfunction: In people with renal dysfunction, all fluid is not able to be removed from the body as the kidneys do not function normally. This causes fluid retention leading to Anasarca.[1]

Cirrhosis: This is a condition in which there is an abnormality in the functioning of the liver. A dysfunctional liver is one of the causes for hormonal imbalances affecting the regulation of fluids in the body. This causes fluid to infiltrate the tissues causing Anasarca.[1]

Malnutrition: This is quite a common cause for Anasarca. This is seen mainly in the third world countries where there is severe food deficiency. Malnutrition causes fluid to get collected in the tissues resulting in Anasarca.[1]

Cardiac Abnormalities: A dysfunctional heart results in poor pumping of blood throughout the body which results in accumulation of fluid in the tissues causing Anasarca.[1]

Allergic Reaction: An allergic reaction is yet another common cause for Anasarca. An allergic reaction is triggered if an individual consumes or comes in contact with a substance to which he or she is allergic to. This results in the immune system of the body getting activated and releasing histamines causing Anasarca.[1]

Capillary Leak Syndrome: This is a rare cause for Anasarca. It occurs when there is a leakage of the proteins and fluids in the body into the tissues from the vessels. The cause for this condition is not known but is believed to be due to an injury to the blood vessel. Some studies suggest that capillary leak syndrome can also be caused due to cancer medications.[1]

Medication Side Effect: This is also quite a rare cause of Anasarca. Common classes of medications that have the potential to cause Anasarca include steroids and antihypertensives. As mentioned above, certain cancer medications may also result in Anasarca.[1]

What are the Symptoms of Anasarca?

Severe swelling throughout the body is the primary symptom of Anasarca. The skin becomes shiny and looks stretched. The swelling tends to be so severe that even simple movements become quite challenging. In some cases, due to the excessive swelling, the fluids start to leak from the skin surface. Additional symptoms of Anasarca include:[1]

  • Problems ambulating, especially the lower extremity are severely affected
  • Problems with lifting arms above head
  • Tachycardia
  • Pain in the joints
  • Problems with breathing

In case if the fluid gets accumulated in the lungs then it may lead to a potentially serious condition called pulmonary edema. It is an emergent medical condition and requires prompt treatment. The symptoms of pulmonary edema include chest pain, coughing, and problems breathing.[1]

How is Anasarca Diagnosed?

A general physical examination more often than not can indicate whether a patient has Anasarca. In case if there is severe swelling, then just a visual inspection is good enough to confirm the diagnosis of this condition. Since Anasarca is not a condition but is rather a symptom, further tests will have to be carried out to get to the bottom of the cause of Anasarca.[1]

Blood tests will be done to look for any abnormalities in the functioning of the liver, kidneys, and even the heart. Investigative studies including EKG, chest x-ray, and a stress test may also be conducted to look for the underlying cause of Anasarca.[1]

How is Anasarca Treated?

The treatment of Anasarca depends on what is causing it. If renal dysfunction is believed to be the cause of Anasarca then assessing and treating the renal system will be the primary mode of treatment for this condition. Additionally, the physician prescribes the following to control the swelling.[1]

Diuretics: These are medications that work by helping the kidneys release more salt in the urine thereby releasing more fluid out of the body by way of voiding or urination. Diuretics are either given orally or intravenously. The type and dose of the diuretic will depend on the severity of the condition and what is causing the swelling.[1]

Albumin: It is a protein that is used by body for various bodily functions. It also plays a role in regulating fluids in the body. In instances where there is severe malnutrition or a severe medical illness the level of this protein falls extremely low. This causes the fluid from the blood to fill in to the tissues resulting in Anasarca. This can be treated by replenishing albumin in the body and increasing its levels.[1]

In conclusion, Anasarca generally is a sign of severe organ damage or other potentially serious medical condition. Anasarca significantly interferes with the ability of an individual to perform daily tasks and decreases their quality of life. However, identifying the cause and treating it in most cases decreases the swelling.[1]

It is important to understand the cause of the condition since medications can treat the swelling but if the cause is not addressed there is a high likelihood of Anasarca returning. With regard to the prognosis, it is the cause of Anasarca that determines whether the patient will recover completely.[1]

In most cases, only after the underlying medical condition has reached an advanced stage which dents the prognosis significantly. Thus, any problems with regard to lungs, kidneys, heart, and liver needs to be addressed as early as possible to prevent development of Anasarca.[1]

References:

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