Discusses swelling symptoms caused by collection of body fluid, tissue growth, or abnormal movement or position of tissue. Includes swelling caused by disease, allergic reaction, and circulation problems. Covers legs, feet, hands, and other body areas.
is an increase in the size or a change in the shape of an area of the body.
Swelling can be caused by collection of body fluid, tissue growth, or abnormal
movement or position of tissue.
Most people will have swelling at
some time. When it is hot and you have 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 because body
fluid will normally move down a limb from the effects of gravity. Swelling can
also be caused by heat-related problems, such as
heat edema from working or being active in a hot
Body fluid can collect in different tissue spaces of
the body (localized) or can affect the whole body (generalized). Causes of
localized swelling include:
Injury to a specific body area.
Bruising (hematoma) from an injury is caused by tears
in the small blood vessels under the skin. Bleeding can also affect the joint
(hemarthrosis) or the area that cushions and lubricates the joint (traumatic
bursitis). Swelling can affect just one area or may involve large sections of
the body, such as swelling that occurs following a motor vehicle
Infection, which can occur in a joint or under the skin.
abscess is a pocket of pus that forms at the site of
Cellulitis is a skin infection that can cause mild or
Burns, which can cause swelling at the
site of the burn or in a larger area around the burn.
Inflammation that occurs when tissue is irritated by
overuse or repeated motion.
Swelling of the tendon and swelling caused by
a series of small tears around a tendon (tendinosis) can occur together or
Swelling of the sac that cushions and lubricates the
joint (bursitis) can be caused by prolonged or repeated pressure or by
activities that require repeated twisting or rapid joint movements.
Insect bites or stings. Most insect bites or stings
cause a small amount of redness or swelling. Some people have an
allergic reaction to a bite or sting and develop a lot
of swelling, redness, and itching.
Fluid that accumulates in the abdomen (ascites) because of
other problems, such as malnutrition,
cirrhosis, or liver disease.
Some people may experience swelling as a reaction to a
procedure, or surgery. Swelling from a medical
treatment may be related to the procedure or to 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
Lymphedema is swelling that occurs in an area around
lymph nodes that have been removed (such as following surgery) or injured (such
as following radiation treatments).
Swelling can also be caused by
the fluctuation 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 is related to the
menstrual cycle. Some women experience mild swelling
in their hands or feet during
pregnancy. Swelling in the feet may be more noticeable
in the third
trimester of the pregnancy. Generalized swelling can
be a sign of a pregnancy-related problem called
preeclampsia. For more information, see the topic
occur when tissues move out of their normal position, such as
hernias in the abdomen. For more information, see the
Most of the time swelling
is mild and goes away on its own. You may not even know what caused the
swelling. Home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve mild
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction
(anaphylaxis) may include:
The sudden appearance of raised, red areas (hives)
all over the body.
Rapid swelling of the throat, mouth, or tongue.
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.
Swelling can be a sign that you are having an allergic reaction to a medicine. This can happen with almost
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines also
may cause swelling as a side effect. A few examples
Hormones, such as
birth control pills and hormone therapy used to treat menopause
Some blood pressure medicines.
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and
arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have
one, seek care in the next hour.
You do not need to call an
You cannot travel safely either by driving
yourself or by having someone else drive you.
You are in an area
where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Seek Care Today
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms
and arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't
have one, seek care today.
If it is evening, watch the symptoms and
seek care in the morning.
Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and
can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your
normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days.
Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's
Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
Make an Appointment
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
Make an appointment to see your doctor in the
next 1 to 2 weeks.
If appropriate, try home treatment while you
are waiting for the appointment.
If symptoms get worse or you have
any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.
Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow
these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Carefully read and follow all
directions on the medicine bottle and box.
Other symptoms develop, such as pain, fever, trouble breathing, or decrease in urination.
become more severe or frequent.
The following tips may help prevent
Do not sit with your feet hanging down for long
periods of time. Elevate your feet whenever possible. If you take a car trip,
stop and walk around every 1 to 2 hours. If you are traveling in an airplane,
be sure to get up and walk around every 1 to 2 hours.
amount of salt in your diet.
Exercise regularly. Warm up and
stretch before exercising.
Drink plenty of fluids, and keep your
skin cool in hot environments.
Avoid repetitive motions, or take
frequent breaks often to rest a body area.
Take medicines as
instructed. If swelling occurs often, discuss with your doctor whether taking
your medicine at another time of day would decrease the
Do not smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products.
They increase circulation problems.
If you have a chronic medical condition or are pregnant,
follow your doctor's instructions on how to prevent swelling and when to call
to report your symptoms.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.