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Types of edema (according to their causes and main symptoms)

Types of edema (according to their causes and main symptoms)

June 12, 2024

It is common to hear elderly people who have circulation problems say they have fluid retention in their legs. If they are observed, they appear swollen and inflamed, as if they were partly filled with water.

The same thing happens sometimes after a burn, after a surgical intervention, if we suffer from any liver, heart or metabolic disease or simply after standing for a long time and exercising under high temperatures.

This swelling is what is called edema, and may have different types of origins . There are several types of edema, the main ones of which we will explore in this article.

  • Related article: "The 15 most common nervous system diseases"

What is an edema?

We understand swelling of the soft tissues caused by the presence of fluid accumulation in them . Also known as fluid retention this swelling can appear for a variety of causes, from the existence of a metabolic, hepatic or cardiovascular problem to being at an excessive temperature making great efforts or too long standing or sitting, the consumption of medications or absence or excess of nutrients. Keep in mind that although it may appear for innocuous causes may be a sign that may be indicating the presence of a disorder or disease.

The symptoms will vary depending on the cause, although it is common to find fatigue, discomfort or tingling, difficulty in movement and reduction of the amount of urine emitted (this is why in many cases the associated treatment causes a spectacular increase in the desire to to pee).


What causes the swelling is an imbalance in the interstitial fluid . This liquid is the one that bathes the space between the cells of our body and allows the cells to receive nutrients while eliminating waste. This liquid enters and leaves our cells in a constant way, maintaining a balance between the amount of liquid inside and outside the cells. In some cases imbalances may occur that cause an accumulation of interstitial fluid in the white tissues, producing edema.

The edema can be grouped and classified according to various criteria. The most common refer to the level of generalization of the edema and the location of its origin or etiology.

Types of edema according to the level of generalization

One of the ways to classify edema is according to whether the retention of fluid is generalized throughout the body or located in a specific area. In this aspect, the existence of two basic types can be considered .

1. Localized or local edema

It is the most common and easiest type of edema. In them the presence of fluid is located in certain points of the body, which are usually affected by some type of venous or lymphatic problem, such as a thrombus.

Some of the most frequent subtypes of local edema are the following.

1.1. Peripheral edema

It is the type of edema that is located in the extremities . They can have different causes, such as circulatory problems.

1.2. Cerebral edema

An edema in the brain can be very dangerous, because it can cause drowning or compression of neuronal tissue . The effects can vary greatly, but it is not uncommon the presence of dizziness, headache, memory problems and concentration and nausea, which can lead to death in some cases.

1.3. Pulmonary edema

A dangerous edema at the same time that relatively frequent These types of edema flood the lungs of sufferers and often cause symptoms such as weakness, fatigue or feelings of suffocation. It often appears as a response to blood supply problems.

1.4. Macular edema

Produced in the eye or around it, it can be more or less severe depending on where it appears and if it causes pressure in the eyeball .

1.5. Angioedema

Edema produced in mucous membranes and skin . It is usually caused by allergic reactions.

2. Generalized edema

This type of edema is more strange to see and usually has a cause that affects the body as a whole. The swelling is widespread. Within this group we can find different subtypes, which indicate where the cause of the swelling comes from.

2.1. Cardiac edema

This type of edema is the one that occurs in the heart , and that presents a high dangerousness if it is not treated because it can cause death. It is common for blood volume to decrease, venous pressure to rise, and problems with heart rate such as tachycardia or bradycardia.

2.2. Deficiency edema

This type of edema is produced by the absence of nutrients due to malnutrition , poor metabolism or excessive emission or expulsion of body components. For example, due to anemia or the emission of excess minerals in the urine

2.3. Renal edema

Caused by difficulties in filtering blood and expelling urine . It is common to produce in the known as acute nephritic syndrome, in which a dark urine usually appears due to the presence of blood in it.

2.4. Cirrhotic edema

This type of edema is mainly due to liver problems . Swelling and accumulation occur in the peritoneum. Sometimes it is accompanied by jaundice.

2.5. Idiopathic edema

This edema is linked to the presence of hormonal problems .

Types of edema according to their origin

In addition to its level of generalization in the body, other types of edema can also be observed, for example if the affectation is caused by lymphatic alterations or by the presence of vascular alterations or pressure or blood composition.

3. Lymphatic edema

They are considered as such those types of edema produced by causes and alterations linked to the lymphatic system . Within them you can find the primary ones, in which there are malformations of birth in the lymphatic system and that usually affect the extremities, or secondary in those cases in which an acquired damage occurs in them.

The latter can be the effect of surgeries such as those used to resect tumors in the lymphatic system, or in cases of burns, blows or infections that cause the destruction or hypofunction of a vessel.

4. Dynamic edema

This group of edemas include those edemas in which the lymphatic system does not present alterations but in which an excess of liquid is perceived caused by systems or situations in which the limbic system does not participate directly.

These include venous edemas derived from thrombi or problems in blood vessels, those produced by blows that generate inflammation, medications, gestational ones in which swelling can occur in the mother due to varicose veins and hormones during pregnancy, postpartum , the one produced by surgeries (in which the lymphatic system is not altered), the deficiency or some of the general ones.

Bibliographic references:

  • Cecil, R. (2015). Cecil medicine (24rd ed.). Philadelphia, Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
  • Kasper, D. (2015). Harrison's principles of internal medicine (19th ed.). New York, New York: McGraw-Hill, Medical Pub. Division.
  • Renkin, E.M. (1994) Cellular aspects of transvascular exchange: a 40-year perspective. Microcirculation 1 (3): 157-67.
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