Edema (also known as dropsy or fluid retention) is swelling caused by the accumulation of abnormally large amounts of fluid in the spaces between the body's cells. It is a symptom rather than a disease or disorder. Widespread, long-term edema can indicate a serious underlying disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

These will vary and may include the following.

What Causes It?

Imbalance in the body's fluid transfer can be caused by the following.

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

Your health care provider will look for varicose veins, blood clots, wounds, or infections. An X ray, computed tomography scan, magnetic resonance imaging, urine test, or blood test may be necessary. Edema caused by organ failure or high altitude sickness may require hospitalization.

Treatment Options

Complete decongestive therapy (CDT) involves compression bandages and pressure "sleeves" tightened over swollen limbs to help force fluid through other channels for re-absorption by the body. Other options include a salt-reduction diet, daily exercise, resting with legs elevated above heart level, wearing support hose, and massage.

Drug Therapies

Surgical Procedures

Surgery may be required to remove fat and fluid deposits associated with a certain type of edema called lipedema, or to repair damaged veins or lymphatic glands to reestablish lymph and blood flow.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

The following nutritional and herbal support guidelines may help relieve edema, but the underlying cause must be addressed.

Nutrition Herbs
Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots.

An herbal diuretic is best taken as a cooled tea (4 to 6 cups per day), although a tincture may also be used (30 to 60 drops four times a day). Combine three of these herbs with equal parts of two to three additional herbs from the following categories, as indicated: cleavers (Galium aparine), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), oatstraw (Avena sativa), elder (Sambucus nigra), red clover (Trifolium pratense), and red root (Ceonothus americanus)

For cyclic edema, such as swelling from menstruation: Physical Medicine

Special Considerations

Excessive fluid retention during pregnancy (toxemia) is potentially dangerous to both you and your baby.


Balch JF, Balch PA. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group; 1997.

Bartram T. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. Dorset, England: Grace Publishers; 1995:73, 155, 156, 188.

Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:424, 425, 429.

Furosemide. NMIHI. Accessed at http://www.nmihi.com/f/furosemide.html on July 2, 2018.

Diuretics. NMIHI. Accessed at http://drugs.nmihi.com/diuretics.htm on July 2, 2018.

Mayo Clinic. Available at [mayoclinic.org]

Mindell E, Hopkins V. Prescription Alternatives. New Canaan, Conn: Keats Publishing Inc; 1998.

Weiss RF. Herbal Medicines. Beaconsfield, England: Beaconsfield Publishers, Ltd; 1988:188-191, 241.