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Edema is not normal, nor is it comfortable to live with.

Weight gain and minor limb swelling is something that most people will experience at least once in their lifetimes; in these inconsequential cases, the condition is not necessarily going to require immediate medical attention. On the other hand, swollen limbs in seniors and/or chronically ill individuals can be a sign of edema—a potentially major health concern. Edema affects more than four million people in the United States and is frequently a symptom of an underlying condition in seniors, such as kidney damage, congestive heart failure, COPD, or even arthritis. If your elderly loved one is suffering from edema, its uncomfortable symptoms, or relative comorbidity, know that DispatchHealth can provide the on-demand medical care that you’re looking for at home for non-life-threatening situations. We offer convenient, in-home urgent care for seniors with minor to complex cases of edema, allowing them to receive the medical attention they need in the comfort of their own homes.

If this is an emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.

Edema symptoms & when to seek treatment

Edema can occur in any part of the body, from hands to feet, and is typically triggered by an excess buildup of fluid that’s trapped in the body’s tissues. This condition presents a wide variety of visible symptoms that can range from minor to extreme, making it easy to spot. Some recognizable signs of edema include:

  • Swelling/puffiness of the tissue directly under your skin (common in legs or arms)
  • Stretched or shiny skin around the affected area
  • Skin that retains a dimple (pits), after being pressed for several seconds
  • Increased abdominal size

Minor cases of edema in healthy, young adults will usually go away over time. However, when seen in a senior or individual with underlying health concerns, edema can become cause for concern and should be assessed by a medical professional. This is particularly true if edema is paired with any of the following symptoms:

  • Prolonged swelling, or swelling that won’t go away
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain

These symptoms, in addition to swelling, could be a sign of pulmonary edema, congestive heart failure (CHF), or any number of other concerning health issues—which will require prompt medical treatment. Persistent leg pain and swelling can also indicate a blood clot deep in your vein (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT), which is another health issue that requires medical assessment and care.

What causes edema in seniors?

Causes of edema in seniors are wide ranging, minor to extreme. Most cases of mild edema in seniors are side effects of medications for high blood pressure, steroids, diabetes, or estrogens. Other mild causes of edema could include sitting or staying in one position for too long or eating too much salty food. While the pull of gravity could be to blame, edema in seniors could also be caused by or a sign of a much more serious underlying medical condition like:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Kidney damage or kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Chronic venous insufficiency, deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Poor lymphatic system function

How to prevent/treat edema in seniors

Mild cases of edema in seniors will usually go away on their own; you can help things along by raising the affected limb higher than your heart. However, long-term management of edema in seniors will typically involve treating the underlying cause of the swelling. To avoid and or manage edema, here are some tips and tricks to incorporate into your everyday practices:

  • Exercise, stretch, and move around throughout the day (especially after long hours of sitting still)
  • Wear compression socks on affected limbs to encourage blood flow
  • Elevate affected limbs

If left untreated

If left untreated, edema can lead to a number of complications in elderly individuals including:

  • Painful swelling
  • Difficulty walking
  • Stiffness
  • Stretched, itchy, and uncomfortable skin
  • Increased risk of infection in the swollen area
  • Scarring between layers of tissue
  • Decreased blood circulation
  • Decreased elasticity of arteries, veins, joints, and muscles
  • Increased risk of skin ulcers

Some accompanying symptoms of edema—like shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, or swelling in a single limb—will require urgent care. Anyone experiencing these exacerbated symptoms should seek immediate medical attention, especially if they have an underlying health concern like congestive heart failure (CHF) or kidney disease. And that’s where DispatchHealth can help.

Offering an affordable flat rate for uninsured patients, but accepting most major forms of health insurance—including Medicare and Medicaid—DispatchHealth does all that we can to ensure you benefit from personalized medical care at an affordable price. Best of all, requesting care is as easy as contacting us via a phone call, our app, or on our website. Within a few hours, our medical professionals will arrive at your place of need.