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Senior Health - Living with Edema

Oct 15, 2017 by Comfort Keepers of Riverside and Corona

To most people, gaining a little weight or being a little swollen in certain areas of their body doesn’t seem like a big deal. Heck, our weight fluctuates naturally throughout the day given our food and water intake. And, our bodies can swell when we workout, eat something that upsets our stomach, or even when we wear a pair of uncomfortable shoes for too long.

However, for seniors, these not-so-scary changes can quickly turn to otherwise. Edema is commonly found in older Americans with a range of health issues, and is something to take seriously.

Here’s what you need to know about this condition:

What is Edema?

Edema, formerly known as “dropsy,” is a condition that occurs when extra fluid leaks out of blood vessels in various parts of our body and is trapped in the layers of tissue beneath the skin, giving the appendage a puffy, swollen appearance.

Over 4.4 million Americans are burdened by edema.

Seniors especially are at a higher risk for it because of their increased medication intake, increased chance of having multiple medical conditions, and their decreased exercise levels. There are other causes, of course, but these are the most prevalent found in this population.

General symptoms of edema include:

  • Changes in weight (gaining weight, especially)
  • Swollen, puffy skin
  • Shiny, discolored skin
  • Skin that appears to be stretched
  • Stiffness in joints
  • Aching in any body part

Causes of Edema

Edema can stem from a plethora of health reasons. Here are some common ones:

  • Some medications cause the body to retain fluid, which can lead to edema.
  • There is hereditary predisposition to it, too, unfortunately.
  • Menopause.
  • Consuming too much salt, or an otherwise unhealthy diet.
  • Physical inactivity, or sitting/standing for too long.
  • Surgery.
  • High altitudes.
  • Heat/burns.

Types of Edema

There are varying forms of edema, and knowing which one you have can better help you find the right treatment for it:

  • Peripheral edema. This is the most common form of edema. It involves the swelling of your outer extremities, such as your feet, ankles, legs, hands, and arms.
  • Generalized edema. This involves swelling of the entire body, though it may still look like peripheral edema because of gravity pulling the fluid down.
  • Lymphedema. This results from dysfunction in the body’s lymphatic system.
  • Corneal edema. You can even get edema in your eye! This involves fluid retention in the cornea specifically, and can affect your vision.
  • Pulmonary edema. This involves fluid buildup in the lungs.

Ways to Treat Edema

Overall, treating the underlying cause of the edema is the best way to get rid of/cope with it, so seek medical attention.

However, if you are treating your edema or there is nothing that can be done to reverse it, there are some ways to manage it:

  • Eat right. An “edema diet” has two components: low salt intake, and high diuretic properties. Salt leads to fluid retention, so limiting salt consumption is necessary. Additionally, eating foods that are natural diuretics, meaning they help the body expel more water in the urine, is very helpful. Examples of these foods are pineapple, leafy greens, onion, garlic, and asparagus.
  • Compression. There are compression stockings, sleeves, or gloves that can be purchased either through your doctor or online. Pressure helps with preventing increased fluid buildup, as well as pain.
  • Exercise. Using the body parts affected by edema will help them to increase blood flow and lymph activity, both of which help reduce fluid retention.
  • Lower fluid intake. This may seem like it’s going against healthy-living advice, but for someone with edema, the lower the fluid intake, the better. This is especially true for certain types of edema like pulmonary edema or edema due to heart failure, and daily liquid limits may be set by the doctor.

If you are having problems managing you or your loved one’s edema, talk to a medical professional about resources available to you.

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