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 idiopathic edema?

Idiopathic edema is a pitting edema of unknown cause that occurs primarily in pre-menopausal women who do not have evidence of heart, liver, or kidney disease. In this condition, the fluid retention at first may be seen primarily pre-menstrually (just prior to menstruation), which is why it sometimes is called "cyclical" edema. However, it can become a more constant and severe problem.

What is the treatment for idiopathic edema?

Patients with idiopathic edema often take diuretics to decrease the edema in order to lessen the discomfort of bloating and swelling. Paradoxically, the edema in this condition can become more of a problem after the use of diuretics. The people can develop fluid retention as a rebound phenomenon each time they discontinue diuretics. Talk to your doctor before using any diuretics.

Patients with idiopathic edema appear to have a leak in the capillaries (tiny peripheral blood vessels that connect the arteries with the veins) so that fluid passes from the blood vessels into the surrounding interstitial space. Thus, a patient with idiopathic edema has a decreased blood volume, which leads to the typical reaction of salt retention by the kidneys.

  • The leg edema in these people is exaggerated in the standing position, since edema tends to accumulate in those parts of the body that are close to the ground at the time.
  • These people often have edema around the eyes (periorbital edema) in the morning because the edema fluid accumulates during the night around their eyes as they lay sleeping flat.

In contrast, edema around the eyes does not tend to develop in cardiac people who keep their heads elevated at night because of shortness of breath when they lie flat. These people characteristically experience varying amounts of edema in different parts of the body at different times of the day.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/26/2016

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