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Home > Wellness > Health Library > Swelling
is an increase in the size or a change in the shape of an area of the body.
Swelling can be caused by collection of body fluid, tissue growth, or abnormal
movement or position of tissue.
Most people will have swelling at
some time. When it is hot and you have stood or sat in the same
position for a long time, you might notice
swelling in your feet and ankles. Staying in one position for any length of time
increases the risk that the lower legs, feet, or hands will swell because body
fluid will normally move down a limb from the effects of gravity. Swelling can
also be caused by heat-related problems, such as
heat edema from working or being active in a hot
Body fluid can collect in different tissue spaces of
the body (localized) or can affect the whole body (generalized). Causes of
localized swelling include:
Causes of generalized swelling include:
Some people may experience swelling as a reaction to a
procedure, or surgery. Swelling from a medical
treatment may be related to the procedure or to a substance, such as dye, used
during the procedure. Swelling may occur at an
intravenous (IV) site used during a procedure or at an
IV site used for medicines given at home. Some swelling at the site of surgery
is normal, such as swelling of the arm after a
Lymphedema is swelling that occurs in an area around
lymph nodes that have been removed (such as following surgery) or injured (such
as following radiation treatments).
Swelling can also be caused by
the fluctuation of hormone levels within the body. Some women may notice
swelling from retaining fluid during their
menstrual cycles. This may be called cyclical edema because it is related to the
menstrual cycle. Some women experience mild swelling
in their hands or feet during
pregnancy. Swelling in the feet may be more noticeable
in the third
trimester of the pregnancy. Generalized swelling can
be a sign of a pregnancy-related problem called
preeclampsia. For more information, see the topic
occur when tissues move out of their normal position, such as
hernias in the abdomen. For more information, see the
Most of the time swelling
is mild and goes away on its own. You may not even know what caused the
swelling. Home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve mild
Check your symptoms to decide if and when
you should see a doctor.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Severe trouble breathing means:
Moderate trouble breathing means:
Mild trouble breathing means:
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Swelling can be a sign that you are having an allergic reaction to a medicine. This can happen with almost
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines also
may cause swelling as a side effect. A few examples
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Pain in adults and older children
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction
(anaphylaxis) may include:
A severe reaction can be life-threatening. If you have had a
bad allergic reaction to a substance before and are exposed to it again, treat
any symptoms as an emergency. Even if the symptoms are mild at first, they may
quickly become very severe.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
Based on your answers, you need
Call911or other emergency services now.
Mild swelling will usually go away
on its own. Home treatment may help relieve symptoms.
pain are very common with injuries. When you have swelling, you should look for
other symptoms of injury that may need to be evaluated by your doctor.
If you have a medical condition that may cause swelling, follow your
doctor's instructions on how to treat your swelling.
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
The following tips may help prevent
If you have a chronic medical condition or are pregnant,
follow your doctor's instructions on how to prevent swelling and when to call
to report your symptoms.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
Current as of:
June 4, 2014
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & David Messenger, MD
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
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