Swelling, also referred to as anasarca or edema, is a medical condition characterized by an excessive build up of fluid within the body’s tissues. This can cause a person to rapidly increase his or her weight in a short period of time, ranging from days to weeks. The most commonly affected areas of the body are the skin, organs, glands, breast, ankles, legs, and feet. Swelling may be generalized throughout the body or localized to a single area.
There are two basic types of swelling: pitting and nonpitting edema. Pitting edema leaves an indentation in the skin when the swollen area is pushed on for five seconds and then quickly removed. Nonpitting edema, on the other hand, does not leave a pit.
A certain amount of slight swelling is considered normal during warmer months. This is particularly true for people who walk or stand a lot throughout the day. In addition, a pregnant woman may experience some from the stress of carrying a child. In both cases, there is generally no cause for concern.
It is also possible for swelling to be caused by severe illness, particularly when it is generalized. This type is usually quite obvious and can easily be detected, even in individuals who are overweight. A person experiencing severe swelling should seek medical attention immediately, as it can indicate a serious progressive or chronic illness.
Some illnesses that can cause swelling include heart failure, chronic kidney disease, acute glomerulonephritis, nephritic syndrome, thyroid disease, and liver failure resulting from cirrhosis. Burns, both from fire and from the sun, can also cause this condition. Malnutrition, excessive salt intake, and too little albumin in the blood are other possible causes.
Swelling can also be caused by certain drugs, including antihypertensives, androgenic steroids, anabolic steroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and calcium channel blockers. Corticosteroids can also cause swelling, as they encourage the retention of sodium.