Lymphedema People Logo


A Comparison of Lymphedema and Edema

This page has been updated.  For current information please see:



Related terms: Edema, Oedema, Lymphedema

Edema or Lymphedema

Not all swelling is lymphedema, some is edema caused by an underlying medical condition. This section includes articles that will help explain the difference.

If you have unexplained swelling, it is crucial for you to work with your doctor to find the underlying cause. Don't assume it is lymphedema. You must get treatment for the condition that is causing your edema.

Edema - Definition and Discussion

Simply defined, edema is the abnormal pooling of fluid in tissues or the accumulation of excess interstitial fluids. It can be throughout the body which is referred to as generalized edema. It can also occur in a specific region, part or even spot, then it is called localized edema. The condition may be caused by increased pressure in the capillaries, blocking of vein, varicose veins, thrombophlebitis, venous obstruction, pressure from casts, tight bandages, congestive heart failure, kidney failure, liver cirrhosis, overactive adrenal glands, steroid therapy or inflammatory reactions.

Edema may also occur because of loss of serum protein in burns, draining wounds, excessive bleeding, nephrotic syndrome or chronic diarrhea. It is also seen in malnutrition, allergic reactions.

But perhaps the most common edema experience by even millions of healthy individuals is inflammatory edema. This type of localized edema is a one of the body's most immediate reaction to trauma or injury to tissues. This can be caused by sprained muscles, torn ligaments, insect bites, cuts and abrasions. It is also caused by venous thrombosis or sudden vascular blockages. Joint swelling caused by arthritis is another common type of localized edema.

treatment of edema is directed at correcting or curing the underlying condition. Once this condition is resolved the edema dissipates.  If this does not occur than it can be treated with diuretics and/or decongestive massage therapy.  In the situation of edema caused by vascular anomalies, support compression hosiery may be worn.  Treatment may also include dietary changes which focuses on a low sodium intake.

The symptoms of edema include unexplained weight gain, ring or shoe tightness, facial swelling or puffiness, swollen arms or legs and abdominal distention.  Tissue changes in early edema are known as non pitting edema.  When pressed with a finger, there is no indentation. Also, with edema the skin of the affected area may appear stretched and or shiny.  In long standing edema, the tissue will experience (as with lymphedema) what is known as pitting edema.

Incidentally, all edemas used to be known as dropsy.

Infections can be a complication of both edema or lymphedema.  It should be noted though, that edema may be caused by infection wheras in lymphedema infections are a direct complication of the condition itself. Also, with lymphedema, the affected limb is known as immuno-compromised and infections generally are much more severe and readily develop into cellulitis, or lymphangitis.

Lymphedema however is a disorder where lymph collects in soft tissue (sub-cutaneous) because damage to the lymphatic system. This can be from a genetic malformation (hereditary); infection or injury in utero (congenital); a side effect to a developmental disorder of the lymphatics (also a type of hereditary lymphedema), or by removal of lymph nodes for cancer biopsy, injury, trauma or infection of the lymphatics, infection caused by a parasitic infection or damage done by the crushing of the lymphatics in morbid obesity.

Since the destruction or injury to the lymphatics is the underlying cause, there is no cure for this swelling, only treatment and management.  The preferred
treatment for lymphedema
is decongestive therapy.  Other treatment modalities may include surgical management, and compression pumps.  The use of diuretics should not be used and in fact may cause additional complications in lymphedema.

The general symptom of lymphedema is the swelling of an arm or leg unexpectedly and or without explanation or may suddenly appear after trauma, injury or lymph node removal for biopsy.  In early lymphedema, when the limb is pressed with a finger, it will leave an indentation.  This is known as pitting edema. 

Below is a list of medical conditions that cause or are involved with edema:

Causes of Edema

Premenstrual syndrome
Heart failure
Kidney conditions
Nephrotic syndrome
Kidney failure
Liver condition
Cirrhosis of the liver
Varicose veins
Lymphedema - see also causes of Lymphedema
Protein deficiency (type of Nutritional deficiency)
Thyroid condition
Certain medications

Edema as a complication: Other conditions that might have Edema as a complication might be potential underlying causes of Edema. The list of conditions listing Edema as a complication in our database includes:

Aortic coarctation
Cor pulmonale
Exfoliative dermatitis
Hodgkin's Disease

Edema as a symptom: Conditions listing Edema as a symptom may also be potential underlying causes of Edema. The list of conditions listing Edema as a symptom in our database includes:

Acute rheumatic fever
Aortic coarctation
Chronic kidney failure
Cirrhosis of the liver
Common migraine
Glomerular Disease
Goodpasture syndrome
Hemolytic disease of the newborn
Hemolytic uremic syndrome
Hodgkin's Disease
Liver cancer
Nephrotic syndrome
Polyarteritis nodosa
Premenstrual syndrome
Primary biliary cirrhosis
Pulmonary valve stenosis
Restrictive cardiomyopathy
Rheumatic fever
Vitamin E deficiency

Acknowledgement and Credit






Congestive Heart Failure and Pulmonary Edema

Rate this Article Last Updated: January 11, 2002

Synonyms and related keywords: CHF, pulmonary edema

Author: Shamai Grossman, MD, MS, Director, The Cardiac Emergency Center, Instructor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital



Aetna InteliHealth - Harvard Medical School



Medline Plus

What Is It?

Edema is swelling of both legs from an accumulation of excess fluid. Edema has many possible causes:


Symptoms vary according to the type of edema and its location. In general, skin covering the swollen area will be stretched and shiny.


To check for edema that is not obvious, you can gently press your thumb over the foot, ankle or leg with slow, steady pressure. If edema is present, an indentation will show on the skin. You should see a doctor to determine the cause of leg swelling. If both legs are swollen, your doctor will ask about other symptoms and do a physical examination. A urine test will show if you are losing protein from the kidneys. Blood tests, a chest X-ray and an electrocardiogram (EKG) also may be ordered.

Expected Duration

Edema can be temporary or permanent. Also, it can come and go depending on the cause.


The only way to prevent edema is to prevent the cause. Smoking is the main cause of chronic lung disease. Congestive heart failure most often is caused by coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, or excessive alcohol use. To avoid leg swelling on long trips, stand up and walk around often. Ideally, you should get up once an hour. If that's not possible, then exercise your feet and lower legs while sitting. This will help the veins move blood back toward the heart.


Treatment of edema focuses on correcting the underlying cause of the fluid accumulation. In addition, a low-salt diet and avoiding excess fluid intake usually helps. If you are not short of breath, elevating your legs above the level of your heart also will keep swelling down. Your doctor might suggest that you take a low dose of a diuretic (water pill).

For swollen ankles and feet caused by pregnancy, you can elevate your legs and avoid lying on your back to help improve blood flow and decrease swelling.

If your have mild leg edema caused by venous insufficiency, you can elevate your legs periodically and wear support (compression) stockings. Sometimes surgery is needed to improve the flow of blood through the leg veins.

No matter what the cause of edema, any swollen area of the body should be protected from pressure, injury and extreme temperatures. The skin over swollen legs becomes more fragile over time. Cuts, scrapes and burns in areas that have edema take much longer to heal and are more prone to infection.

Wen To Call A Professional

Call your doctor immediately if you have pain, redness or heat in a swollen area, an open sore, shortness of breath or swellng of only one limb.


The prognosis for edema of the legs depends on the cause. For most people with edema, the prognosis is excellent.

Additional Info

National Library of Medicine (NLM)
8600 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20894
Phone: (301) 594-5983
Toll-Free: (888) FIND-NLM (346-3656)
Fax: (301) 496-4450

-----External Links-----

Edema Main Index


Edema Prevention and/or Curing Protocol



Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine by Mai Tran


Medication Causes of Edema

Edema Secondary to Medications







What causes pitting edema?

What is idiopathic edema?

How does venous insufficiency cause edema?


Swollen extremities (edema) during pregnancy Pulmonary edema


Neurogenic pulmonary edema induced by spinal cord injury in spontaneously hypertensive and Dahl salt hypertensive rats.


Join us as we work for lymphedema patients everywehere:

Advocates for Lymphedema

Dedicated to be an advocacy group for lymphedema patients. Working towards education, legal reform, changing insurance practices, promoting research, reaching for a cure.


Pat O'Connor

Lymphedema People / Advocates for Lymphedema


See also:

Edema and Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Edema and Deep Venous Thrombosis

Edema and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy/Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Edema and Venous Pooling

Edema and Angioedema

Edema of the Neck

Edema and Nephrotic Syndrome

Edema of the Face

Edema and Thrombophlebitis

Edema and Diabetes

Edema and Congestive Heart Failure


Join us as we work for lymphedema patients everywehere:

Advocates for Lymphedema

Dedicated to be an advocacy group for lymphedema patients. Working towards education, legal reform, changing insurance practices, promoting research, reaching for a cure.


Pat O'Connor

Lymphedema People / Advocates for Lymphedema


For information about Lymphedema\

For Information about Lymphedema Complications

For Lymphedema Personal Stories

For information about How to Treat a Lymphedema Wound

For information about Lymphedema Treatment

For information about Exercises for Lymphedema

For information on Infections Associated with Lymphedema

For information on Lymphedema in Children

Lymphedema Glossary


Lymphedema People - Support Groups


Children with Lymphedema

The time has come for families, parents, caregivers to have a support group of their own. Support group for parents, families and caregivers of chilren with lymphedema. Sharing information on coping, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. Sponsored by Lymphedema People.



Lipedema Lipodema Lipoedema

No matter how you spell it, this is another very little understood and totally frustrating conditions out there. This will be a support group for those suffering with lipedema/lipodema. A place for information, sharing experiences, exploring treatment options and coping.

Come join, be a part of the family!




If you are a man with lymphedema; a man with a loved one with lymphedema who you are trying to help and understand come join us and discover what it is to be the master instead of the sufferer of lymphedema.



All About Lymphangiectasia

Support group for parents, patients, children who suffer from all forms of lymphangiectasia. This condition is caused by dilation of the lymphatics. It can affect the intestinal tract, lungs and other critical body areas.



Lymphatic Disorders Support Group @ Yahoo Groups

While we have a number of support groups for lymphedema... there is nothing out there for other lymphatic disorders. Because we have one of the most comprehensive information sites on all lymphatic disorders, I thought perhaps, it is time that one be offered.


Information and support for rare and unusual disorders affecting the lymph system. Includes lymphangiomas, lymphatic malformations, telangiectasia, hennekam's syndrome, distichiasis, Figueroa
syndrome, ptosis syndrome, plus many more. Extensive database of information available through sister site Lymphedema People.



Lymphedema People New Wiki Pages

Have you seen our new “Wiki” pages yet?  Listed below are just a sample of the more than 140 pages now listed in our Wiki section. We are also working on hundred more.  Come and take a stroll! 

Lymphedema Glossary 


Arm Lymphedema 

Leg Lymphedema 

Acute Lymphedema 

The Lymphedema Diet 

Exercises for Lymphedema 

Diuretics are not for Lymphedema 

Lymphedema People Online Support Groups 



Lymphedema and Pain Management 

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) and Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT) 

Infections Associated with Lymphedema 

How to Treat a Lymphedema Wound 

Fungal Infections Associated with Lymphedema 

Lymphedema in Children 


Magnetic Resonance Imaging 

Extraperitoneal para-aortic lymph node dissection (EPLND) 

Axillary node biopsy

Sentinel Node Biopsy

 Small Needle Biopsy - Fine Needle Aspiration 

Magnetic Resonance Imaging 

Lymphedema Gene FOXC2

 Lymphedema Gene VEGFC

 Lymphedema Gene SOX18

 Lymphedema and Pregnancy

Home page: Lymphedema People

Page Updated: Dec. 25, 2011