Remember when you banged your shin on the coffee table, and had a bit of a goose egg? Of course you do, everyone in your apartment building can remember the swearing. Swelling is a blanket term that could mean the enlargement of just about any area of the body. It could be caused by bumping into objects (like coffee tables) being hit with an object (hopefully not a coffee table). Swelling could be the result of a sprain or strain on your joints. It could also be environmental, hormonal, or the result of an allergic reaction. Swelling can be a part of inflammation, though it isn’t always the same thing. Inflammation is the body’s response to a problem, such as a foreign substance or an open wound; it is part of the healing process. Swelling can sometimes just be a collection of fluid around a site in the body, in which case it is called edema. If the swelling is around the abdomen, it can be the result of something as benign as intestinal bloat or premenstrual water retention, or the product of a more serious condition.
As you can see, swelling covers a wide range of possibilities, and the idea of being able to get rid of swelling with one methodology is ridiculous. This article will be divided into the most common types of swelling, their probable causes, and the best available information on getting rid of them.
Localized vs. Generalized Swelling
When medical professionals talk about swelling, they will refer to it as either localized or generalized. The term localized means that the swelling is confined to a particular location, such as a swollen ankle. Generalized swelling is more systemic, or widespread, such as water retention due to heart failure.
Best Ways to Get Rid of Swelling
Swelling due to problems with circulation. There are dozens of ways that our body’s circulatory system can become impaired in such a way that it causes localized and generalized swelling. Listed here are a few of the most common ailments and how to treat them.
Pregnancy. In the case of pregnant women, it is very common for there to be added pressure to the circulatory system as the baby grows inside. This usually causes fluid to collect in the lower extremities (ankles, feet). As annoying and odd looking as it might be, localized swelling is to be expected. You can lessen it by trying to stay off your feet, stretching often, elevating your legs when sitting, sleeping on your left side, and staying cool and hydrated during the summer months. If there is swelling in other parts of the body—such as the face and hands—it could be a sign of another very dangerous condition called preeclampsia. Should swelling occur above the belly, you need to get to the doctor right away for further testing.
Clots. The restriction of blood flow due to clotting is known as thrombosis. In the worst cases, those clots can travel into the lungs or brain causing embolisms or strokes, which are potentially fatal and a bunch of other bad stuff. They are treatable with anticoagulants, and Vitamin E is said to be helpful with thrombosis. In any case, this is something you need to discuss with your doctor.
Peripheral Artery Disease. This is becoming more and more common with the growing diabetes problem. Other symptoms of PAD, besides swelling, include: pain in the lower extremities, discoloration of the skin, wounds that are slow to heal, numbness, and tingling sensations. Treatment involves identifying the underlying condition, most likely diabetes, which is something that goes beyond the scope of a web article. Talk to your doctor. Hypertension and heart failure.
Hypertension, or high-blood pressure, can be caused by many things, though it is often undiagnosed until it has damaged the body beyond repair. It is good practice to have your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. If it seems to be creeping upwards, there are steps you can take to keep it in check: lower your salt and fat intake, quit smoking, get more exercise, and try to lose some weight. In more severe cases, there are pharmaceuticals that will help you to lower your blood pressure. A failing heart is a less efficient heart, and, subsequently, blood pressure is increased as it is unable to pump blood normally. Treatments are generally similar in nature to other blood pressure problems, but can include the use of pacemakers or organ transplantation.
Swelling due to an injury. The body’s natural response to an injury is to flood the area with liquid called serum (a part of the blood), which helps protect the area and start the healing process. That is why swelling is so often associated with injuries. Contusions. These can range from a relatively minor bruise to a head injury involving a concussion, so it’s hard to generalize a treatment. You will need to analyze the situation: if it’s more than just a bruise or involves a blow to the head, go to the doctor. Otherwise, follow the Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation treatment plan. Swelling should be minimized with the application of ice, and, if re-injury is avoided, the bruise should heal itself in a week or two. Burns. The treatment for first degree burns is to stop the burn at its source and then cool the area for ten minutes. Usually, the skin will heal itself and shed in a few days to weeks. If there is blistering over more than ten percent of the body or if the burn is deeper than the epidermis, it is considered a medical emergency. You should absolutely go to the hospital immediately. Sprains and strains. These generally occur in the joints of our appendages when we overextend or tear the ligaments (which connect bone to bone) or the muscular tendons (which connect bone to muscle). This kind of injury will often require immobilization or surgery to heal properly. You should definitely consult a physician. However, in the short term, it would be a good idea to follow the Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation treatment plan. Ice will definitely help to reduce the swelling. Fractures, dislocations, and amputations. Why are you reading this? Go to the emergency room!
Swelling due to disease or infection. Localized infections.Infections are caused when a foreign species of microorganisms takes up residence in our body, usually in an unnatural opening such as a cut or scratch. These organisms— bacterial, viral, fungal, or protozoan—are just trying to live their lives at our expense. Of course, our bodies don’t think much of that and produce an immune response which includes inflammation. The best treatment is to keep the infected area clean, and, in some cases, it may be necessary to treat the infection with antibiotics to prevent a wider infection. Organ failure. There are quite a few diseases that can cause generalized swelling, usually by impacting the circulatory system in some way (hypertension or anemia), or by blocking the lymphatic system (due to surgery, trauma, or infection). Diseases that impact the liver and renal systems can also cause swelling. If the body’s natural filtration system is unable to keep up with the toxins we humans ingest every day, these minerals can build up in the blood stream. Unfortunately, the prognosis isn’t good for this kind of disease. Dialysis is an option, but not a permanent one.
Swelling due to an allergic reaction. Part of our body’s immune system is a substance called histamine. In response to injuries, it causes inflammation. Similarly, it is part of the antibody response involved in allergic reactions. Common allergies. In the case of minor allergies—such as pollen, dander, or dust—hives, swelling around the face, and a runny nose are commonplace. Treatment involves avoidance and antihistamine medications such as Benadryl. Anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a scary thing that is becoming more common these days. The allergen could be just about anything, but the most common ones are: venom from stinging insects, tree nuts, and peanuts. There has been promising work done to see if it is possible to build up immunity to such allergens with repeated, very small exposures. It is quite likely, though, that the person is unaware that the condition even exists—which makes it really quite a bad way to find out. Upon exposure to the allergen, itchiness and hives come on quite quickly, and the sufferer can easily become incapacitated as swelling around the throat can block their airway and possibly kill them. Treatment in the short term involves an injection of epinephrine via an autoinjector (EpiPen) which will counteract an anaphylactic response. An antihistamine medication will also help in a pinch. In any case, you should go to the doctor as soon as you can.