What Is Dropsy (Edema)? Causes, Symptoms, and Home Remedies

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If edema refers to the swelling of a body cavity or extremity due to internal fluid buildup, what is dropsy? Basically, it is a medical term once used to describe the same condition.

Dropsy or oedema, as it is known in the United Kingdom, is commonly seen with inflammation of an artery or major organ such as the kidneys, liver, and heart.

We discuss dropsy causes, their specific symptoms, and ways to treat and prevent the condition now referred to edema.

What Is Dropsy (Edema)?

For a formal dropsy definition, we look to the Medical Dictionary web site, where its medical explanation is: “an abnormal accumulation of serous fluid in a body cavity or in the cellular tissues.” Most people with this condition refer to edema of the affected region.

Years ago, a patient was referred to as having dropsy. The term stems from the Greek word hydro, describing water. From this, edema was referred to as hydrops in Greek, and then the Old French used the word hydropsie and the Middle English adapted it to dropesie.

Dropsy is evident at the end of a long day, as the majority of the excess fluid collects in the feet and lower legs. It can cause several pounds of visible weight gain, and the skin can appear shiny and stretched. All of this can also cause painful aches of the local muscles.

What Are the Causes of Dropsy (Edema)?

We must look at both pathological and physiological conditions when discussing what causes dropsy. The leaking fluid from blood vessels causes the nearby tissue to swell and inflammation occurs. Common minor dropsy cases are seen with:

  • Excessive consumption of salty food
  • Premenstrual symptoms
  • Pregnancy
  • Prolonged sitting or standing position
  • Use of medications such as estrogens, steroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, high blood pressure medicines, and diabetes drugs known as thiazolidinedione

There are also serious health conditions that may result in edema swelling. These disorders can be pre-existing conditions, or the severe inflammation may be a major indicator of an underlying issue. You can see the dropsy illness in humans with:

1. Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure leads to edema as the heart fails to properly pump blood, and it collects in the lower extremities and sometimes in the abdomen. If the blood builds up in the lungs, as in the case of pulmonary edema, it may present breathing difficulty.

2. Liver Damage

Liver damage, cirrhosis, may cause fluid buildup in the legs and possibly the abdomen, which is known as ascites.

3. Kidney Damage

Kidney damage that affects the organ’s blood vessels may lead to nephrotic syndrome, which is a reduction in the blood protein levels. This protein is referred to as albumin and is created by the liver. With an insufficient amount, edema can occur.

Kidney diseases are common when there is excess sodium and fluid in the blood. Dropsy can be seen around the eye region as well as the legs.

4. Vein Damage

Vein issues such as chronic venous insufficiency may result in edema. This leg condition occurs when the veins become weak or damaged, and impairs the blood circulation. Swelling is seen with the accumulation in the veins of the legs. It becomes a serious condition requiring immediate medical attention when the swelling is sudden in one leg and accompanied by calf pain.

5. Lymphatic System Issues

Lymphatic system problems may affect the ability of lymph nodes and lymph vessels to properly drain the tissues excess fluid, resulting in edema. This is often seen with cancer surgery.

Dropsy Symptoms

The dropsy illness is characterized by the swelling of the feet, ankles, and legs with possible puffiness visible in the hands and face. Other symptoms from the underlying cause can also appear, such as:

  • Distention of extremities
  • Changes in the skin of the affected region such as tightness
  • Shiny or gleaming appearance of skin
  • Skin depression or a pitted appearance when the area is touched
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest pain
  • Urine reduction
  • Panting or breathlessness

Types of Dropsy (Edema)

Dropsy can appear in various forms depending on the cause and the affected site of the fluid accumulation.

  • Peripheral edema refers to excess fluid gathering in the legs, ankles, and feet as opposed to the center of the body.
  • Pulmonary edema occurs with excess fluid collecting between the air spaces, or alveoli, of the lungs.
  • Periorbital edema refers to inflammation around the eye region due to excess fluid buildup. This periorbital puffiness is commonly seen in the morning.
  • Pleural effusion is a form of edema affecting the lungs. This gathering of excess fluid occurs in the fluid-filled area around the lungs, known as the pleural cavity.
  • Ascites is seen with a fluid collection within the abdominal cavity, or the peritoneal cavity, which houses the liver, stomach, and the intestines.

Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies for Dropsy (Edema)

If you suffer from dropsy, it is important to treat any serious underlying health condition causing the fluid accumulation. We have collected some lifestyle tips to follow, as well as natural home remedies to treat edema symptoms.

1. Lower Sodium Intake

Reduce salt intake as high sodium levels retain water, creating excess fluid buildup. This includes avoiding processed and prepackaged meals and snack as well as consuming fresh fruit and vegetables instead of canned options.

2. Exercise Often

Being active may help disperse the fluid that has gathered by moving the affected extremity. A short walk, yoga, and swimming are good exercises for edema issues.

3. Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol

Limit or avoid carbonated beverages, alcohol, and caffeinated products and drinks.

4. Take Breaks

Take breaks from prolonged sitting or standing to prevent fluid collection in the feet.

5. Keep Cool

Limit or refrain from spending time in extremely hot environments, inside or outside, which can cause edema.

6. Stay Elevated

Keep affected regions elevated above the heart level when you can throughout the day. You may want to prop the extremity up at night with the use of pillows.

7. Massage

Massaging the area where the excess fluid is gathered may help reduce the swelling. Gently massage toward the heart. You can use an essential oil such as flaxseed oil or tea tree oil mixed with a carrier oil to enhance the results.

8. Compression Garments

Compression garments for the feet, legs, arms, or hands may apply enough pressure to force the fluid buildup levels to decrease, and prevent it from collecting into the nearby tissues.

9. Moisturize

Protect the areas susceptible to edema swelling by avoiding injury such as dryness, which can lead to cracking of skin. This can result in infection if not attended to with protection.

10. Lime Water Compress

Apply a compress soaked with lime water or apple cider vinegar on the area affected by edema. Repeat several times each day for a 10-minute treatment.

11. Pineapple

Try adding more pineapple to your diet, as the tropical fruit is a natural diuretic and may boost the kidney’s function of removing waste.

12. Herbs

Many rely on natural herbs such as arjuna, Indian squill, and dandelion to help reduce the effects of edema. Just be mindful of possible allergies or drug interactions.

13. Apple Cider Vinegar

Reduce swelling by drinking one to two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar mixed in a glass of water twice each day. The vinegar has anti-inflammatory properties to combat swelling as well as a high potassium content to balance the body’s potassium levels. Low potassium leads to fluid retention.

12. Epsom Salts

Bathe in warm water bath infused with two cups of Epsom salts to eliminate toxins and excess fluid. Repeat three times each week.

13. Parsley

Add parsley to your favorite dishes as a tasty natural diuretic. It could also prevent the body from absorbing excess potassium and sodium. The same benefits may also be seen by drinking a hot tea solution of one teaspoon of parsley and two cups of water. Parsley leaves can be crushed into a paste to apply to the swelling for a 30-minute treatment, twice daily.

14. Flaxseeds and Coriander

Twice a day, heat one-half teaspoon of flaxseeds or three tablespoons of coriander seeds in one cup of water and drink once cooled. Both products have anti-inflammatory properties and may promote good blood circulation. Flaxseeds may also act as a detoxification aid.

Dropsy, or edema, is commonly seen in the lower extremities when exposed to excess salt intake, extreme hot temperatures, prolonged sitting or standing, or as a side effect of medication. There are serious health ailments and diseases that can lead to the excessive fluid buildup condition. When treating dropsy, any underlying health condition has to first be treated.  In most cases, this will reverse the swelling. For mild cases of edema, you can try natural home remedies and make a few lifestyle changes.

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