Home > Health & Wellness > Health Library > Swelling
Swelling is an increase in the size or a change in the shape of an area of the body. Swelling can be caused by:
Most people will have swelling at some time. When it's hot and you've stood or sat in the same position for a long time, you might notice swelling in your feet and ankles. Staying in one position for any length of time increases the risk that the lower legs, feet, or hands will swell. That's because gravity normally causes body fluid to move down a limb. Swelling can also be caused by heat-related problems. One example is heat edema from working or being active in a hot environment.
Body fluid can collect in different tissue spaces of the body (localized swelling). Or it can affect the whole body (generalized swelling). Causes of localized swelling include:
Causes of generalized swelling include:
Some people may have swelling as a reaction to a medical treatment, procedure, or surgery. Swelling from a medical treatment may be related to the procedure. Or it may be from a substance, such as dye, used during the procedure. Swelling may occur at an intravenous (IV) site used during a procedure or at an IV site used for medicines given at home. Some swelling at the site of surgery is normal, such as swelling of the arm after a mastectomy. Lymphedema is swelling that occurs in an area around lymph nodes that have been removed (such as after surgery) or injured (such as after radiation treatments).
Swelling can also be caused by the rise and fall of hormone levels within the body. Some women may notice swelling from retaining fluid during their menstrual cycles. This may be called cyclical edema, because it's related to the menstrual cycle. Some women have mild swelling in their hands or feet during pregnancy. Swelling in the feet may be more obvious in the third trimester of the pregnancy. Generalized swelling can be a sign of a pregnancy-related problem called preeclampsia.
Swelling can occur when tissues move out of their normal position, such as hernias in the abdomen.
Most of the time, swelling is mild and goes away on its own. You may not even know what caused it. Home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve mild symptoms.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Pain in adults and older children
Swelling can be a sign that you are having an allergic reaction to a medicine. This can happen with almost any medicine.
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines also may cause swelling as a side effect. A few examples are:
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Severe trouble breathing means:
Moderate trouble breathing means:
Mild trouble breathing means:
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) may include:
A severe reaction can be life-threatening. If you have had a bad allergic reaction to a substance before and are exposed to it again, treat any symptoms as an emergency. Even if the symptoms are mild at first, they may quickly become very severe.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Mild swelling will usually go away on its own. Home treatment may help relieve symptoms.
Swelling and pain are very common with injuries. When you have swelling, make sure to look for other symptoms of injury that may need to be checked by your doctor.
If you have a medical condition that may cause swelling, follow your doctor's instructions on how to treat your swelling.
Protect a sore area. Stop, change, or take a break from any activity that may be causing your pain or soreness.
Prop up the injured or sore area on pillows while you apply ice and anytime you sit or lie down. Try to keep the area at or above the level of your heart to help reduce swelling.
Don't sit or stand for long stretches of time. Exercising the legs decreases the effect of gravity, so swelling goes down.
A low-sodium diet may help reduce swelling.
Drink plenty of fluids to help prevent swelling caused by dehydration.
Keep your skin cool in hot environments.
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of:
July 14, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: July 14, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.