What Is Edema? Types, Symptoms, Causes (Plus How to Treat It Naturally)

Written by Claire Hannum

Updated on February 9, 2024

Did you wake up one morning to find swollen, puffy legs you barely recognize?

You may be suffering from edema. But don’t worry, you’re not alone in experiencing it. This condition is super common…and often a symptom of another, deeper issue.

Edema can be caused by certain health conditions, medications, or even just eating too much salt. So which type of edema are you facing, and what can you do about it? Let’s take a look…

Table Of Contents

What Is Edema?

Edema is defined by its central symptom: Puffy, swollen skin caused by fluid retention. This is most common in your legs, ankles, or feet, but it can happen anywhere on your body. Edema can also make the skin look shinier or “stretched out” (1).

Edema usually serves as a sign of a deeper health issue, but that doesn’t always mean it’s serious. Sometimes you can kick edema with a change as simple as shifting your diet or adding a new supplement to your routine (2).

Graphic showing a normal foot vs a foot with edema. Swelling under the skin that affects the ankles and legs.

There are several different types of edema, 11 of which we’ll cover in this article…

11 Different Types of Edema

How you manage your edema will depend on what type of edema you’re experiencing (3).

1. Pulmonary Edema

Pulmonary edema is life-threatening and an emergency. It happens when excess fluid gathers in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe (4).

2. Pitting Edema

When you have pitting edema, applying pressure to the skin can cause an indent (a pit) in the skin.

3. Non-Pitting Edema

With non-pitting edema, applying pressure to the skin does not create an indent. Non-pitting edema usually takes place in the arms or legs, and is often attributed to lymphatic issues.

4. Macular Edema

Macular edema is caused by diabetic retinopathy and causes swelling in the eye’s macula. This condition can change your vision and the way you perceive colors.

5. Heat Edema

Heat edema occurs when you’re sitting or standing for too long in hot weather. This happens because your blood vessels expand, allowing body fluid to be carried by gravity into the legs or hands. Salt can also increase your risk of heat edema.

6. Bone Marrow Edema

This condition occurs when fluids build in your bone marrow, often as a result of an injury. It can be managed with physical therapy and by simply resting your injury.

7. Vasogenic Edema

Vasogenic edema happens when the blood-brain barrier is disrupted, and often occurs alongside brain tumors.

8. Peripheral Edema

This is perhaps the most well-known type of edema. Peripheral edema strikes in feet, legs, ankles, arms, and hands, and is characterized by puffiness and swelling.

9. Corneal Edema

Corneal edema sufferers experience swelling and fluid build-up in the outer surface of the eye, which can cause cloudy vision.

10. Periorbital Edema

This type of edema is characterized by temporary puffiness, fluid build-up, and inflammation around the eyes.

11. Cerebral Edema

Cerebral edema is a life-threatening condition in which the brain swells and puts pressure on the skull. Symptoms of cerebral edema include headaches, neck stiffness, changes in your mental state, vomiting, vision loss, and more. If you think you or someone you know is experiencing cerebral edema, seek emergency care right away.

What Causes Edema?

First, let’s consider some of the more serious conditions that can cause edema. If you’re concerned that one of these conditions is causing yours, speak with your doctor to make sure. They will help “grade” your edema on the edema scale to help you determine how severe your case is.

Swollen feet because of water retention in the body.

Here are some of the more serious illnesses that can lead to edema:

  • Heart Failure
  • Cirrhosis of the Liver
  • Kidney Disease
  • Blood Clots
  • Thyroid Issues
  • Infections
  • Severe Allergies
  • Some Cancers and Related Treatments (5)

There are also other factors that may cause edema, including:

  • Extended periods of time on or off your feet. This is especially true in hot weather, or if you have varicose or damaged veins in your legs.
  • A diet containing too much salt.
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Obesity
  • Chronic Venous Insufficiency
  • Having Undergone Previous Radiation Treatment
  • Previous Lymph Node Resection
  • Severe Protein Malnutrition
  • Pregnancy (while slow developing edema is common in pregnancy, edema that appears rapidly could be a sign of preeclampsia and should be treated as an emergency) (6)

Medications That Can Cause Edema

If you still haven’t narrowed down the source of your edema, one of these common medications may be the culprit:

  • Diabetes Medication (including thiazolidinediones such as pioglitazone)
  • High Blood Pressure Medication (including calcium channel blockers)
  • Certain Pain Medicines (including NSAIDs, pregabalin, and gabapentin)
  • Steroids

If you rely on one of these medications regularly, talk to a healthcare provider for advice rather than stopping any meds abruptly.

Complications of Edema

It’s important to pay attention to your edema and weigh your options for addressing it. If it’s left untreated, it can cause a series of potential complications and frustrations…

  • Decreased Mobility
  • Itchy Skin
  • More Swelling
  • Decreased Circulation to the Swollen Area

And of course, if the reason for your particular case of edema is a larger health issue, that health issue could cause its own set of additional complications and symptoms.

Pregnant women with swollen feet lying on bed.

How to Treat Edema

When formulating your plan of attack for edema treatment, make sure you first find out exactly what type of edema you have. This will shape your approach to treating it.

Medical Treatments for Edema

If your edema is caused by an existing health issue, there are certain treatments your healthcare providers might try…

  • Heart Failure: Diuretics along with other medications to help improve your heart’s function.
  • Lymphedema: Diuretics initially, followed by compression socks or sleeves.
  • Cirrhosis: Diuretics in tandem with cutting out alcohol and reducing salt.

If your edema suddenly changes for the worse—think accompanying chest pain, difficulty breathing, or intense new pain—see a doctor right away. This could mean that you’re in a life-threatening situation (7).

Another time to be extra vigilant is if you’re pregnant, as sudden edema during this time can be an urgent sign of a high-risk pregnancy (8).

Home Treatments For Edema

If you’ve ruled out major health issues or gotten the okay to treat your edema at home, you can try a few simple lifestyle changes...

  • Reduce Salt Intake
  • Sit With Your Legs Elevated
  • Eat Fresh, Healthy Foods
  • Try Support Stockings
  • Avoid Excess Alcohol
  • Avoid Smoking
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage Treatments
  • Exercise Regularly
  • Take Omega-3 Supplements (we recommend krill oil)
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Which Supplement Is Best for Edema?

Chronic venous insufficiency is a common cause of edema (9). This arises when your veins don’t allow your blood to flow back to your heart properly.

A great ingredient for managing this issue is omega-3 fatty acids. One of the best sources of omega-3s is krill oil. In fact, krill oil’s omega-3 content is eight times more powerful than fish oil and much easier for the body to absorb (101112).

Omega-3s in krill oil can help open your arteries and help manage chronic venous insufficiency, and, in turn, help manage some cases of edema. They can also help with dry eyestinnitus, inflammation, and heart function (13).

If you want to add omega-3s to your routine, NativePath Antarctic Krill Oil is one of the simplest ways to do so. Here’s what some of our customers have been saying about it…

“For over a year I had extremely swollen feet and legs,” explained NativePath customer Deborah after just one month of taking Antarctic krill oil. “My left was the worst. After about four days I noticed my left foot looked normal again. Within the next few days my swelling in both was gone. This stuff is nothing short of a miracle. I cannot tell you how much I believe in this product. For over a year I have been dealing with swollen feet and ankles. I mean to the point where they looked deformed. Last week when I noticed my left foot looked normal I was elated.”

Others saw both a reduction in swelling and a reduction in other unpleasant symptoms:

“Twenty days after beginning this product the swelling and pain and burning in [my] foot was gone,” shared a NativePath customer named Thomas. “After 30 days, ankle and lower leg swelling gone, leg pain gone, and consequently I am sleeping better.”

Another customer, Jacqueline, shared that in just four days she began to see results!

Can Edema be Prevented?

While some causes of edema (like underlying health issues) can be complex to prevent, there are simple lifestyle steps you take. Things like getting regular exercise, reducing your salt intake, and making omega-3s a regular part of your diet and supplement routine can all help alleviate the symptoms of edema.

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The most pure, potent, sustainable source of omega-3s—without the fishy aftertaste.

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The Bottom Line

Swelling doesn’t have to be forever! Edema can be caused by any number of health issues, but plenty of cases of edema can be managed by a few tiny shifts…

Reduce symptoms of edema by exercising regularly, eating nutritious foods, checking in with your healthcare provider, and regularly taking an omega-3 supplement like NativePath Antarctic Krill Oil. Each capsule is loaded with 500mg of krill oil sourced from the chilly, pristine waters of the Antarctic, and can help decrease symptoms of edema in days. Here’s to loving your ankles, legs, and feet again!

Claire Hannum
Article by

Claire Hannum

Claire Hannum is a New York City-based writer, editor, wellness seeker, and reiki practitioner. Her writing has appeared in Self, Health, Prevention, and over a dozen other publications.

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NativePath has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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