Edema Management

Edema is a collection of fluid under the skin. It is often found in the lower legs, ankles and feet. Edema occurs when fluid leaks from small blood vessels. The fluid goes into nearby tissues, which swell. Edema can lead to trouble walking and even difficulty taking a breath. MaineHealth providers can help get your edema under control and improve your overall health.

What are edema symptoms?

  • Tight and shiny skin over the swollen area

  • Puffy skin

  • Trouble walking

  • Trouble breathing or cough

What causes edema?

  • High-salt diet

  • Pregnancy

  • Immobility

  • Spending too much time sitting or standing

  • Being overweight

  • Blood clots

  • Low albumin (blood proteins)

  • Tumor

  • Heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease

How is edema treated?

If your edema is mild, your body will balance the fluid on its own. If your edema is more serious, your doctor may prescribe a diuretic. A diuretic is a medication that helps to relieve excess fluid from your body by making you urinate more frequently. If your edema persists, your provider will look for the causes of edema.

  • Get plenty of movement to increase circulation in your body

  • Frequently raise the affected area of your body, so that it is above the level of your heart

  • Massage the area affected by edema

  • Use bandages or compression socks to keep pressure on the edema

  • Consume less salt

  • Keep the swollen area clean, dry, and moisturized

Our skilled occupational therapists work with patients to manage and control lymphedema.

What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema also is called lymphatic obstruction. Lymphedema most often causes swelling in the arms or legs, but it can develop in any part of the body. It is caused by blocked or damaged lymph vessels or lymph nodes. Fluid builds up causing swelling.

Lymphedema can be caused by injury, illness and infection. It can also occur after cancer surgery or radiation therapy. Breast cancer patients may have lymphedema after surgery to remove all or part of their breast and underarm lymph nodes. People who have had surgery for uterine cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma and melanoma also are at risk of lymphedema.

Symptoms of lymphedema include:

  • Pressure or heaviness in the arm or leg

  • Clothing or shoes are tight-fitting

  • Swelling

  • Redness and inflammation

Lymphedema treatment:

Occupational therapists certified in lymphedema therapy can help drain fluid from the affected tissue. Lymphedema therapy includes:

  • Manual lymph drainage
  • Wrapping and massage
  • Compression garments
  • Skin care education
  • Therapy exercises
  • Wound care