Know When to See Your Doctor About Swelling

Swelling is generally caused by inflammation or fluid build up. Minor swelling is relatively common and not necessarily anything to worry about. Any swelling that is unexplained and long-lasting, however, can be a sign of a medical problem, so it’s important to know when to seek care.

What Causes Swelling?

Swelling can be caused by a variety of factors – medication, injury and inflammation of muscles, bones or tissues, are often the culprits. Other common causes of swelling include:

  • Fluid retention.
  • Illness.
  • Insect bites.
  • Hormonal changes.
  • Sitting / standing for long periods of time.
  • Obesity.
  • Physical inactivity.
  • Tight clothing.
  • Cysts or tumors.
  • Post-surgical swelling.

Additionally, medical conditions such diabetes, heart failure and some types of cancer, may cause the body to swell. People with lymphedema experience a persistent swelling in the arm or leg as a result of a blockage of the lymphatic system.

When Should You See a Doctor?

Luckily, most swelling is not anything to be overly concerned about. There are situations, however, when swelling may require a call to your doctor or emergency care.

If you have swelling that is combined with any of the following symptoms, you need to seek medical attention:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Fever.
  • Warmth in the area that is swollen.
  • Fainting or dizziness.
  • Sudden increase in swelling during pregnancy.
  • Swelling along with a pre-existing heart or liver problem.
  • Persistent swelling of any of your limbs (i.e., feet that are constantly swollen)

Additionally, anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction, can cause rapid and life-threatening swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and throat and needs immediate medical attention.

Localized swelling can usually be treated at home, but if you’ve taken steps to decrease swelling and it hasn’t gone away after a few days, it’s also time to see a doctor to rule out an underlying condition.

How Can You Reduce Swelling?

The good news is that there are some things you can do at home to help alleviate swelling and any discomfort that comes with it, including:

  • Restrict salt intake.
  • Elevate the swollen limb.
  • Wear compression stockings.
  • Low-impact exercise.
  • Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.
  • Immobilize the limb that is swollen.

Alternating between cold and hot therapies, such as ice packs & heating pads, can also help to reduce swelling. If you have acute swelling, however, it is important to avoid heat therapy as it may exacerbate your swelling by encouraging more blood flow to the area, which can cause additional pain.

Additionally, low-impact exercise can help to reduce swelling. That’s right, swelling is not an excuse to get out of regular exercise. It isn’t advised that you run a few miles on that throbbing and swollen ankle but, in many instances, exercise is recommended to help alleviate swelling.

Exercise can also help to you keep your body healthy and prevent swelling in the first place.

“Maintaining an active lifestyle can help keep underlying health conditions that may cause swelling, such as obesity and chronic medical problems, in check. This reduces your likelihood of experiencing health-related swelling,” said Erik Hansson, health-fitness specialist with SamFit in Corvallis.

For most people experiencing swelling, Hansson recommends staying active and healthy by participating in activities such as:

  • Walking.
  • Swimming.
  • Yoga.
  • Stretching.
  • Low impact cardio exercise.
  • Non-weight bearing exercises (i.e. cycling or machines like a Scifit).
  • Strength training.

Depending on the severity of the injury, or swelling, passively moving the affected area through its full range of motion can help to push fluid out of the area and help reduce any adhesions that might develop in the joint capsule or affected soft tissues as effectively as active use.

“If you have a medical condition that is causing your swelling, it’s important to follow your doctor’s treatment instructions and to talk with them prior to returning to exercise or beginning a new routine,” said Hansson. “Once you’ve been cleared to exercise, you can work with a certified health and fitness instructor to put together a plan appropriate for your medical situation.”

Visit SamFit today for more information about fitness and nutrition programs.

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