Swelling occurs when a part of the body increases in size, typically as a result of injury, inflammation, or fluid retention. The medical term for swelling is edema.
Swelling can occur in the skin, joints, and other tissues and organs of the body. There are several reasons a person may experience swelling in different parts of their body, with some being more serious than others.
Keep reading to learn more about the causes and symptoms of swelling in different parts of the body, as well as their associated treatment options.
Below are some potential causes of swelling, along with their associated symptoms.
Swelling is sometimes associated with inflammation from an injury. When a part of the body sustains an injury, the immune system instigates an inflammatory response that helps heal the injury and protect against infection.
This inflammatory response may cause noticeable swelling in the injured area.
Some other symptoms associated with injury include:
- skin warmth
- a visible enlargement of the area
Swelling can also occur internally. According to Boston Children’s Hospital, heart, liver, and kidney diseases can cause all swelling to occur in different parts of the body, including the organs.
Symptoms of internal swelling can include:
- weight gain
- a cough that gets worse at night
- tiring easily
- difficulty breathing
Swelling in the legs and lower extremities
There are several potential causes of swelling in the legs. Causes of leg or lower extremity swelling can include:
- standing for long periods
- the small valves in the leg veins becoming weaker
- heart failure
- low protein levels
- chronic lung conditions
Other causes of swelling in the legs or lower extremities can include:
- blood clots
- overweight and obesity
- an infection in the legs
- older age
Swelling from cancer and its treatment
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), cancer and certain cancer treatments can cause swelling.
If cancer treatments cause swelling, a person may experience the following symptoms:
- swelling in the abdomen or face
- swelling in the hands, arms, legs, ankles, or feet
- a cough
- an irregular heartbeat
- puffy or shiny skin
Cancer treatments that may cause swelling include:
A person can talk to a doctor about the symptoms they are experiencing. The doctor will likely perform a visual examination of the area in which swelling is occurring.
In addition to a visual examination, the doctor will likely order tests to determine what is causing the swelling. Some tests they may order include:
More advanced imaging tests can show a doctor if there are inflamed tissues or organs, blood blockages, or breaks in the bones or joints.
The best treatment for swelling will depend on the cause. If a person has an underlying health condition, such as kidney disease, they will need to receive treatment for the underlying condition. Treating or controlling any underlying conditions can help reduce swelling.
If a person’s feet or legs swell due to standing for a long period, they should be able to reduce the swelling by sitting with their feet resting on a chair. A person can also try lying on a bed with their feet elevated and wearing compression stockings.
Swelling due to injury, such as a sprained ankle, requires rest. A person can also reduce swelling by applying ice to the area and taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
To prevent whole-body swelling, the NCI recommend:
- exercising often
- reducing or limiting sodium intake
- raising the feet when sitting or lying
- avoiding crossing the legs when sitting
- wearing special compression stockings
- not wearing tight-fitting clothes or shoes
- taking medications as a doctor directs
- talking to a doctor about using diuretics
Swelling can be a common occurrence for some people.
For example, a person can experience swelling in their feet or legs from standing for too long. Pregnant women may also experience regular swelling of their feet and ankles. In these cases, a person likely does not need to see a doctor.
However, if the swelling is unexplained, does not get better with treatment, or lasts for a long time, a person should talk to a doctor. They can examine the swelling and help determine what is causing it.
Some symptoms they may look for include:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- warmth in the hands or feet
A person should see a doctor if they sustain an injury while playing a sport, exercising, or doing other activities. The doctor can help determine the extent of the injury and provide treatment support.
If other symptoms — such as difficulty breathing, weight gain, or tiredness — accompany the swelling, a person should talk to a doctor as soon as possible. These could indicate an underlying condition that may be causing the swelling.
People living with an underlying health condition, such as heart disease or kidney disease, should also talk to their doctor if they experience any new swelling.
Swelling is a common condition. Many people experience swelling for benign reasons, such as standing for too long or sustaining a minor injury.
However, in some cases, swelling could be a side effect of a medication or a more serious underlying health condition. A person should talk to their doctor about what is causing their swelling and take steps to treat any underlying conditions.
How effective the treatment will be depends on the person’s overall health, their age, and whether or not they have any underlying conditions that are causing the swelling.
Most people find some relief by making lifestyle changes and following their doctor’s recommendations.
Swelling can occur for a variety of reasons. For example, a person may have a bone broken, poor circulation, or an underlying health condition.
Treatment and prevention should help alleviate symptoms of swelling, but a person needs to receive treatment for any underlying health conditions they have to prevent or reduce future swelling.