Idiopathic edema



What is idiopathic edema?

Idiopathic edema is a common cause of fluid retention and swelling (edema) in women. Idiopathic is a term which means unknown cause. Idiopathic edema is therefore a condition of mild fluid retention where the cause is not fully understood.

The edema may develop periodically or it may persist over time.

How common is idiopathic edema?

Idiopathic edema mainly affects women in their middle years. It can become worse as you become older. Many women find that the edema worsens at certain times of the month (usually just before a period).

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of idiopathic edema?

Mild swelling of the feet, hands, tummy (abdomen), breasts and face may occur. This is worse at the end of the day and may disappear after a night’s rest.

Many people with idiopathic edema find that they weigh about two kilograms (four pounds) more in the evening compared to the morning.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes idiopathic edema?

The underlying cause seems to be due to fluid leaking out of the small blood vessels into the tissues. Why this occurs in some people is not clear. It is usually worse after you have been standing for long periods, as there is increased pressure in your veins when standing compared to lying down. Going on long journeys or sitting still for long periods of time can also worsen the swelling.

One possible cause is the retention of salt (sodium). When the body retains salt it also holds on to fluid and thereby may cause some oedema.

A possible cause of fluid retention often overlooked by people and difficult to diagnose is due to binge eating alternating with strict dieting. This can cause intermittent fluid retention.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for idiopathic edema?

Idiopathic edema occurs in the absence of heart, kidney, or liver disease. It is often associated with diabetes, obesity, and emotional problems (including depression and neurotic symptoms).

There is also an association with purging behaviors (use of diuretics, laxatives, or vomiting) to achieve weight loss, which has led some authors to question whether idiopathic edema is truly an independent entity.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is idiopathic edema diagnosed?

Please contact your doctor for the best diagnosis.

How is idiopathic edema treated?

Most individuals with idiopathic edema experience a decrease in swelling and fluid retention with the introduction of a low sodium, low carbohydrate diet. For individuals already taking diuretics, a brief discontinuation may result in symptom improvement as well. Individuals who do not respond to initial treatment may be difficult to treat; however, other therapies such as use of hypertension medications (ACE inhibitors) have shown success in some cases.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage idiopathic edema?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with idiopathic edema:

  • Avoid prolonged standing

This may not always be easy, especially if you are in a job which requires you to stand for long periods of time. Wearing support stockings or tights will often help to reduce swelling of ankles and legs. There are now many different types and sizes, meaning they are fairly comfortable to wear. Many of the tights and stockings are now available on prescription from your doctor.

Many people with fluid retention are overweight and losing weight can make a big difference to improve the oedema. A gradual weight loss (rather than fasting and bingeing) is recommended.

  • Salt (sodium) restriction

Idiopathic oedema can often improve greatly if you reduce your salt intake. One way is to stop adding salt to food and also reduce the amount of processed foods you eat, as these often contain large amounts of salt.

  • Eating foods rich in potassium

Eating potassium-rich foods can actually help to reduce the salt levels in the body and so may improve the oedema. Potassium-rich foods include most fruits, especially bananas and also tomatoes. You should not take potassium supplement tablets though.

  • ‘Water’ tablets (diuretics)

Many people take diuretics for edema due to other medical conditions. However, in idiopathic oedema, diuretics may make things worse in some people, as they alter the salt and water balance of the body. They are not necessarily the easy answer to the problem. However, they can help for some people. A doctor is the best person to discuss whether or not they may help you. Also, there are different types of diuretics, and some are not advised for idiopathic oedema. So, it is best to speak with a doctor before using any diuretic.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Review Date: October 30, 2017 | Last Modified: October 31, 2017

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