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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

Treatment

Treatment of edema focuses on correcting the cause of the fluid accumulation. A low-salt diet usually helps. You also should avoid drinking too much fluid. If you are not short of breath, elevate your legs above the level of your heart to keep swelling down. Your doctor might suggest that you take a low dose of a diuretic (water pill).

For swollen ankles and feet caused by pregnancy, elevate your legs and avoid lying on your back to help improve blood flow and decrease swelling.

If you have mild leg edema caused by venous insufficiency, elevate your legs periodically and wear support (compression) stockings. Sometimes surgery is needed to improve the flow of blood through the leg veins.

No matter what the cause of edema, any swollen area of the body should be protected from pressure, injury and extreme temperatures. The skin over swollen legs becomes more fragile over time. Cuts, scrapes and burns in areas that have edema take much longer to heal and are more likely to get infected.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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