Swelling – Symptoms, Causes and Treatments


What is Swelling?


Swelling is defined as the abnormal expansion of any body part. Swelling happens when a region of the body expands as a result of fluid retention, injury or inflammation. Inflammation or fluid buildup is the most common cause of swelling.

In most cases, swelling occurs outside of the joint. Oedema is the medical term for swelling. Effusion is the medical term for swelling within a joint, such as a swollen ankle or knee.

Swelling occurs when your organs, skin or other body parts enlarge. Internal organs, as well as your skin and muscles on the exterior, may be harmed by swelling.  In general, swelling is classified into Internal swelling and External swelling.

Internal swelling is either a drug side effect or the outcome of a catastrophic injury. External swelling is common after insect bites, infections or injuries.

Symptoms of Swelling 

Sometimes, a little swelling may not cause any other symptoms. Swelling is not always a sign of a problem. 

 Swelling can be seen externally or internally.  A scan can help diagnose swelling, which is harder to identify than external swelling. 

 If swelling is caused by an injury, bite, or illness, you may experience a wide range of symptoms. These include: 

  • Itching 
  • Vomiting 
  • Pain the swollen area 
  • Nausea 
  • Dizziness 
  • Fever 
  • Insomnia 
  • Fatigue 
  • Pain 

Types of Swelling 

Swelling due to injury  

The increased transport of fluid and white blood cells into the injured area causes swelling. Chemicals are released and nerves are compressed in the wounded location which causes pain to the person. 

Whenever you are injured, inflammation begins within an hour and peaks within 1-3 days and may last for at least a few weeks. You will notice swelling and heat around your injuries during this time. This is completely normal and part of your body’s natural tissue healing process. 

Internal swelling  

Swelling that occurs internally is known as internal swelling. Heart, liver and kidney disorders may lead to inflammation and swelling. 

Symptoms of internal swelling can include: 

  • A cough that gets progressively worse at night 
  • Getting tired easily 
  • Weight gain 
  • Difficulty in breathing 

Swelling in throat and Neck 

Sometimes lumps and swelling can occur in the neck or throat. This is most likely to happen if there is an infection or if something else is blocking the airways. If this happens, you may feel a bit sick and have a hard time breathing. 

Common types of swelling are 

  •  Swollen lymph glands 
  • Cysts 
  • Skin tags 
  • Goitre 

Swelling in different parts of the body 

Swelling occurring at different parts of the body is known as Edema. Swelling is due to trapping of unhealthy fluid in your body’s tissues.  

Edema is the medical term denoted for swelling in various parts of the body. In most cases, swelling affects the skin, hands, arms, ankles, legs and feet.  

 In severe cases, it might impact the muscles, gut, lungs, eyes and brain. Edema primarily affects older people and pregnant women. 

Swelling in the legs and lower extremities  

Swelling in the legs does not usually indicate heart or circulatory disease. Swelling can be caused by being overweight, inactive for a long time, sitting or standing for lengthy periods of time or wearing tight pants. 

It occurs when your legs’ tissues or blood vessels contain more fluid than they should. This might happen if you overuse your feet or if you sit for a long time.  

Swelling from cancer and its treatment  

If your swelling is caused by cancer or another medical condition, you and your health care team can work together to minimise swelling and its symptoms. Doctors can recommend drugs like diuretics that can help relieve swelling. 

Tests for Swelling

An imaging test, such as an ultrasound, can provide more information regarding the cause of the swelling. Sophisticated diagnostics, such as a CT scan, X-ray and MRI scan may also help to reveal the source of the swelling.

The following are the methods used to diagnose swelling:



An x-ray can indicate conditions such as a bone fracture or fluid around a joint if swelling persists after several days.

CT scan

A CT scan is a diagnostic imaging process that produces images of the inner organs using a combination of X-rays and computer technologies.

Doppler ultrasound

Doppler ultrasound is useful in many situations, however, it is ineffective at detecting clots in the pelvic or small blood arteries in the calf.

Doppler ultrasound can be used for:

  • Identifying clots
  • Examine the flow of blood through your veins, arteries and heart
  • View the flow of blood after therapy

Blood tests

Inflammation in the body is caused by a variety of disorders, including infections and auto-immune problems that can be detected by blood tests called inflammatory markers. The tests can’t tell you what’s causing the inflammation; it might be anything as simple as a viral infection or something more serious like cancer.

Urine tests

Urinalysis is a series of tests conducted on the urine. Urinary tract infections, kidney disease and diabetes are some of the vital conditions for which urinalysis is used to diagnose and treat.  Doctors use it to look for symptoms of common illnesses and disorders.


An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a simple test that examines the heart’s electrical activity. Sensors placed on your skin capture the electrical signals generated by your heart every time it beats.

An ECG records the electrical signals in the heart. It is a painless, easy test for detecting or tracking heart problems.

Treatments of Swelling

Doctors may recommend the following treatments in the case of swelling.

Using an ice pack

Ice has long been used to relieve pain and swelling. During the first 24 to 48 hours following your accident, apply an ice pack for 20-30 minutes every two to three hours.

Icing is excellent at relieving pain and swelling because the ice constricts blood vessels and reduces circulation to the area.

Compression bandage can help reduce swelling

A compression bandage is a long flexible piece of cloth that can be wrapped around a sprain or strain. It’s also known as elastic bandage. The bandage’s mild pressure helps to minimise swelling, making the damaged region feel better.

Your lymphatic system collapses when you compress your ankle, wrist, feet, or any area of your body when at rest.

Risk factors of Swelling

The underlying factors are some of the risk factors of swelling:

High blood pressure medications

Amlodipine is a high blood pressure-lowering drug. The larger the dose, the more likely you are to experience leg and foot swelling. The most prevalent amlodipine side effect is swelling, which commonly manifests as swelling of the feet and ankles.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or NSAIDs, are a form of painkiller drugs. NSAIDs are used by doctors to treat a variety of conditions that causes pain or inflammation, including arthritis.

Steroid drugs

Steroids cause weight gain by disrupting the body’s electrolyte and water balances, as well as its metabolism. These factors lead to weight gain by increasing hunger.


Oestrogen is naturally occurring hormones that plays an important role in the sexual and reproductive development of women. They are also known as sex hormones. The ovaries produce the majority of oestrogen hormones, with modest amounts produced by the adrenal glands and fat cells.

Thiazolidinediones medications

Swelling, weight gain, macular oedema, and heart failure are all common adverse effects of Thiazolidinediones (TZDs). Furthermore, when coupled with other anti-diabetic medicines, they might cause hypoglycemia and lower hematocrit and haemoglobin levels. Another TZD-related negative effect is an increased risk of bone fractures.

Prevention of Swelling

Swelling can be prevented by the following ways:

Exercising often

Exercising often

Exercise boosts blood flow to your heart, muscles and lungs. This can cool your hands by reducing blood flow. As a result, the blood vessels in your hands may dilate, potentially resulting in hand swelling.

During exercise, your body releases cortisol, which can affect your fluid balance and lead you to retain water.

Reducing or limiting sodium intake

Adults who consume fewer than 5 grams of salt per day had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart attack. High blood pressure is caused by too much sodium, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Raising the feet when sitting or lying

When your legs’ veins are not functioning properly, they can feel weak and fatigued. Many people with leg vein problems are constantly looking for a comfortable location to sit and may even prop their legs up to relieve leg discomfort.

Avoiding crossing legs when sitting

Many of us cross our legs without even realising it while sitting at a desk all day. However, you should gradually break this behaviour. You should not cross your legs for more than 20to 30 minutes at a time. If you’ve been sitting for more than 30 minutes, get up and move around or simply stand up and stretch.

Wearing special compression stockings 

Compression stockings are precisely intended to apply pressure to your lower legs, improving blood flow and reducing swelling and discomfort. Your doctor may prescribe if you have a condition that causes poor blood flow in your legs, such as varicose veins (swollen and bulging veins).

Not wearing tight-fitting clothes or shoes

Avoid wearing tight clothes to avoid getting affected by swelling. Wearing tight clothes tightens the muscles and may cause swelling and inflammation, especially in the leg area.

Taking medications as a doctor directs

Ibuprofen or naproxen are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) that can aid swelling and pain. Acetaminophen may also help with the pain. Some doctors recommend adding magnesium to your diet to help alleviate uncomfortable swelling.

Talking to a doctor about using diuretics

Diuretics, commonly known as water pills, help the body clear itself of salt and water. The majority of these medications encourage your kidneys to excrete more salt in your urine. This also aids in the reduction of blood pressure.

When to See a doctor?

If you have abrupt, unexplained swelling in just one leg accompanied by chest pain, difficulty breathing, coughing up blood and fever, then you should seek emergency medical attention.

If your swelling is severe or seems to last longer than a month, then you must see a doctor. To treat the swelling, your doctor may prescribe medication, exercise, or therapy. Remember that swelling is the body’s response to an injury.

Summing up

If you’re experiencing swelling in your body, you should consult your doctor right once. However, swelling left untreated can lead to major health issues.

Depending on the aetiology, swelling can be a short- or long-term condition. In most cases, simple treatments lessen swelling and fluid buildup in your body.


1. What is the best treatment for swelling?

Applying ice to an injury as soon as possible helps to minimise swelling by restricting blood flow and decreasing cellular metabolism.

2. What can make swelling worse? 

Excessive salt consumption can exacerbate the condition. Swelling can also occur as a side effect of certain medications. Swelling can be caused by a variety of health issues, including congestive heart failure, liver illness, and kidney disease.

3. What naturally reduces swelling?

Foods like grapes, cherries, avocados, salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, and olives may help to reduce swelling naturally.

4. Why is swelling caused?

The increased transport of fluid and white blood cells into the damaged area causes swelling. Chemicals are released and nerves are squeezed in the injured area, resulting in pain.

5.How long till the swelling goes down?

Swelling normally worsens within the first two to four days after an accident. As the body tries to recover itself, it can last for up to three months. If the swelling persists, your physical therapist or doctor may need to examine the area more closely to find the cause of the slow healing.

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