Edema

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What is pitting edema and how does it differ from non-pitting edema?

Pitting edema can be demonstrated by applying pressure to the swollen area by depressing the skin with a finger. If the pressing causes an indentation that persists for some time after the release of the pressure, the edema is referred to as pitting edema. Any form of pressure, such as from the elastic in socks, can induce pitting with this type of edema. This type of edema may be normal depending on the severity. Almost everyone who wears socks all day will have mild pitting edema by the end of the day.

Some doctors may use a scale to determine the severity of the pitting edema. These scales are subjective based on either how deep the pitting is, or how long the pitting persists.

In non-pitting edema, which usually affects the legs or arms, pressure applied to the skin does not result in a persistent indentation. Non-pitting edema can occur in certain disorders of the lymphatic system such as lymphedema, which is a disturbance of the lymphatic circulation that may occur after a mastectomy, lymph node surgery, radiation therapy, morbid obesity, or be present from birth (congenitally). Another cause of non-pitting edema of the legs is called pretibial myxedema, which is a swelling over the shin that occurs in some people with hypothyroidism. Non-pitting edema of the legs is difficult to treat. Diuretic medications are generally not effective, although elevation of the legs periodically during the day and compressive devices may reduce the swelling.

The focus of the rest of this article is on pitting edema, as it is the most common form of edema.

What does pitting edema look like (picture)?

Picture of Pitting Edema
Picture of Pitting Edema
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/15/2016
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  • Edema - Salt Intake

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