What is Generalized Body Swelling?

Generalized body swelling is also known as anasarca and is often a medical emergency. It is a medical condition in which there can be swelling of the whole body including face, limbs, abdomen etc. It usually occurs due to abnormal fluid retention in the body that can happen due to any systemic or skin pathology. Let us understand about generalized body swelling, its causes, symptoms, treatment, home care and diet in detail.

Causes of Generalized Body Swelling

Generalized body swelling is mainly caused due to some chronic disease or some anomalies like in blood vessels, water retention, and blockages in the lymphatic vessels. Some common known causes of generalized body swelling are as follows: -

  • Burns and sunburns are mostly seen in people living in tropical countries. After the burns edema occurs as an inflammatory response when the skin tries to heal.
  • Excessive consumption of salt can lead to edema and water retention in the body as salt is known to disturb the osmotic balance of the body. This is one of the commonest causes of generalized body swelling.
  • Heart failure or congestive heart failure and other heart-related diseases, water retention occurs in the feet and lungs.
  • Albumin deficiency can occur in many syndromes and lead to water accumulation or edema at various sites in the body. This too is important amongst the causes of generalized body swelling.
  • Pregnancy is one of the other common causes for generalized body swelling, due to hormonal changes.
  • Side effects of certain medications due to excessive intake can also lead to inflammatory responses in the body and cause generalized body swelling.

Thyroid abnormalities such as thyroiditis. It is an infectious condition caused by bacteria and viruses which lead to inflammation of the gland. Such changes and inflammation can be some of the causes of generalized body swelling.

Some medical conditions that increase the risk or can cause generalized body swelling include,

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Eclampsia or pre-eclampsia
  • Hookworm
  • Liver failure due to cirrhosis
  • Kidney disease or kidney failure
  • POEMS syndrome it refers to polyneuropathy, organomegaly, endocrinopathy, monoclonal gamma, skin diseases
  • Extreme malnutrition and poor health
  • Extreme protein deficiency people
  • Systemic amyloidosis (abnormal protein buildup in the organs or formation of normal proteins decrease)
  • Systemic capillary leak syndrome called commonly as Clarkson syndrome

Symptoms of Generalized Swelling of Body

Generalized body swelling is a presentation in itself, however, it may be accompanied by other symptoms as well. The swelling is mostly acute or insidious in onset and highly progressive in nature and quickly involves the whole of the body.

Some of the common symptoms of generalized body swelling include

  • Nausea, vomiting and severe loss of appetite
  • Generalized body weakness and anemia
  • Cramps or tightening of the abdomen
  • Decrease in frequency of urination
  • Swelling of the feet and ankle and face is seen in respectively associated causes.
  • Shortness of breath also called as dyspnea
  • Orthopnea there occurs increase breathlessness on lying down position
  • Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea person wakes up from sleep due to Shortness while sleeping
  • Hematuria that refers to blood in urination.
  • Diarrhea and constipation can also be one or the few causes.

Treatment for Generalized Body Swelling

The main effective treatment of generalized body swelling includes the use of diuretics. These drugs help to reduce plasma volume and help in maintaining the body fluid pressure. Hence due to change in plasma and fluid oncotic pressure the swelling is relieved. The urination increases after taking these medicines, thus helping to relieve the swelling. There occurs excessive urination on an intake of the diuretics.

The commonly used diuretics for the treatment of generalized body swelling are as follows: -

  1. Loop diuretics - This is given for removal of water in the body and reduce pressure via urination. These drugs stimulate the loop of Henle, a part of the kidney hence regulating the salt and water excretion in the body. A few examples of loop diuretics are furosemide, torsemide etc.
  2. Potassium-sparing diuretic - These drugs are also secreted in the urine. Potassium is an important electrolyte of our body and is needed in the body for maintaining the pH and osmotic balance. When a patient is taking a potassium-sparing diuretic, the potassium is not excreted. Commonly used drugs are spironolactone, triamterene, etc.
  3. Thiazide diuretics - It is another type of diuretic which produces the response of reduction in generalized body swelling by stimulating different sites of kidneys. Commonly known drugs under this class are hydrochlorothiazide.

Home Care and Diet for Generalized Body Swelling

Since the diuretics mostly cause excretion of potassium, except the potassium-sparing diuretics; patients need to take foods rich in potassium so as to maintain the electrolyte balance in the body.

The best diet for generalized body swelling includes the intake of recommended foods like bananas, potatoes, orange juice, and tomatoes.

An increase in protein intake is suggested, particularly in cases of liver pathology like nephrotic syndrome. Proteins help to reduce edema and include various types of food items like eggs, broiled white fish, skinless chicken or turkey, cottage cheese, kefir and low-fat yoghurt. Normally, about 10-12 eggs or at least egg whites per day are recommended.

Limiting fluid intake - This is an important part of home care and diet for generalized body swelling, especially for patients with chronic renal failure and congestive heart failure. In such cases, urinary excretion is affected and excessive fluid intake can not only cause edema but it can also lead to breathing difficulty (dyspnea) and also affect daily activities.

  • Reduction of salt intake is a must as an increased intake of salt can lead to accumulation of water and other bodily fluids and hence cause more swelling of the body. Thus in such patients, salt intake should strictly monitor and other items like lemon can be used instead of salt.
  • Eating a high-fiber diet can also be a remedy for edema and it also helps to fight constipation and reduces bloating.
  • A commonly used remedy includes using Alfalfa; it chlorophyll which is a potent detoxifier. It is best taken as advised by the physician and depending on the patient’s condition. For patients who encounter post-surgical edema, horse chestnut and albumin is said to reduce generalized body swelling.
  • Rose hips, is also one of the treatment therapy followed for edema since it contains bioflavonoids.
  • Hawthorn berries, horsetails, juniper, uva ursi act as natural diuretics. They progressively increase the urine output and hence reduce fluid pressure.
  • Avoidance of indulgence into alcohol, taking animal proteins, beef, chocolates and some dairy products to help reduce edema and also reduce fatty cholesterol levels and help in heart anomalies.
  • Wearing support hose or other supportive bandages for certain types of edema that refers to edema that causes denting of skin due to an application of pressure is suggested.
  • While resting, doctors recommend keeping the feet elevated to increase venous return and avoid peripheral pooling of blood it also gives relief for the patients with edema.
  • Various posture exercises and yoga also help to reduce swelling. Sauna and hot water steam baths are also seen as an option for some patients.

Diagnosis and treatment of underlying pathology especially in the case of congestive heart failure and chronic kidney disease is necessary. Thus proper treatment and follow-up should be done and in case of any emergency or abnormal symptoms, immediate medical advice must be sought.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: November 7, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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