What is inflammation? edema? Lymphedema?   What are some of the causes?

Inflammation:

By definition inflammation is condition which is local to a specific area creating symptoms of swelling, redness, pain, reduced range of motion and heat.

Causes: Usually due to an injury or infection

Edema:

By definition edema is an accumulation of fluid between body tissues or in the circulatory system.

Causes:

  • High intake of salty foods. Salt is sodium and sodium attracts water.  Therefore the more salt you consume the more the body will hang onto excess fluids.
  • Immobility can cause edema. Your muscles are designed in a way that when they contract they put pressure on your veins pushing the blood in the veins upwards.  If you are at a desk job all day and then you come home and sit in front of the TV for the night, your blood has pooled in your legs and with no activity, thus no contraction of the muscles, the blood remains in the legs, causing edema.
  • Warm temperatures cause a change in the blood vessel size allowing more fluid to escape into the tissues.
  • High humidity increases edema when the excess fluid, caused from excess heat, by way of sweat is not allowed to escape the body. Sweating is a way that our body cools itself by allowing the excess fluid to escape through our pores onto our skin to be evaporated.  However, when the humidity, outside our body, reaches the temperature of our internal 98 degrees, our body does not sweat increasing body fluid.
  • Hormone changes can result in edema. Menopause, menstruation and Pregnancy have an effect on our fluid retentions.
  • Medications such as those used to treat high blood pressure, inflammation or pain can change how quickly or slowly the fluid leaves the body.
  • Allergies: When the body has a response to a substance that it is trying to get rid of the walls of the arteries are made more permeable by histamine.  This means that more fluid that carries antibodies is released into an area causing edema.
  • Obstruction of blood flow.
    • Blood clots can be formed due to slow moving blood such as atrial fibrillation or from injury, immobility, congenital changes to blood clotting factors to name a few. The clots are formed inside the veins and if released can be life threatening.  Because the clot obstructs the blood from flowing freely, increased edema occurs.
  • Medical conditions
    • Varicose veins. Our veins have a one way valve that permits the back flow of blood.  When these valves are destroyed, blood pools in the legs and feet.
    • Blood circulation is a continual flow of fluid through our body. The heart controls how this process occurs.  Our oxygenated blood leaves our heart through, the lower left chamber, by way of a pumping action.  It travels through our arteries to all parts of our bodies.  It is returned to the right side of our heart by way of the veins and lymphatic vessels.  The right side of the heart pumps the blood, which no longer contains oxygen, into our lungs to be oxygenated.  From the lungs it is returned into the left side of our heart where the process begins again.
    • Heart disease where the blood is not able to circulate through the body at the required rate or volume as in congestive heart failure will create a backup of fluid in the body.
    • Left side heart failure causes pulmonary edema. When the left ventricle of the heart is too weak to pump the blood to other body parts, there is an accumulation of blood left in the heart and the new blood returning from the lungs starts to back up in the arteries of the lungs leading to the excess leaking into the lungs.
    • Right sided heart failure causes pitted edema in the lower legs. If the right side of the heart cannot pump blood, due to damage, into the lungs for oxygenation, the blood returning to the heart from the veins and lymphatics will be backed up leading to excess leakage in the lower legs and feet.
    • Low protein in the blood. Protein helps keep fluid in the blood vessels.  If there is a lack of protein, fluid will leak out of the vessels into the tissues.
    • Burns & Critical illness such as life threatening infections can create systemic edema by allowing excess fluid containing antibodies into the area. In this situation it would be through the entire body.

Lymphedema

By definition is an abnormal amount of protein rich fluid, in an area that will not go away on its own.

Causes:   Damage, removal/absence or malformation of the lymph nodes or vessels.