Peripheral edema is the presence of excess interstitial fluid in the tissue of the extremities, which causes palpable swelling. Edema develops when microvascular filtration, and therefore interstitial fluid production, exceeds lymph drainage for a sustained period. This could be because the microvascular filtration rate is high, lymph flow is low, or both.
The body has a number of homeostatic mechanisms that serve to maintain interstitial fluid balance, and these must be overwhelmed before fluid buildup becomes evident as peripheral edema. Clues generated by the history, physical examination, and targeted evaluation help to identify the factors affecting lymphatic drainage and microvascular filtration. In many patients, multiple factors contribute to the development of peripheral edema.
Peripheral edema is called lymphedema when it is predominantly caused by inadequate lymphatic drainage.
- Pericardial effusion
- Constrictive pericarditis
- Restrictive cardiomyopathy
- Tricuspid regurgitation
- Sleep apnea
- Nonthrombotic venous outflow obstruction/May-Thurner syndrome
- Hepatic venous outflow obstruction (includes Budd-Chiari syndrome, portal vein thrombosis, and hepatic veno-occlusive disease)
- Renal failure
- Protein-losing enteropathy
- Compartment syndrome
- Primary lymphedema
- Secondary lymphedema
- Severe malnutrition
- Medication-induced edema
- Ruptured Baker cyst
- Pelvic tumor causing external pressure on pelvic veins
Associate Professor, College of Nursing
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
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Professor of Medicine
Division of Hospital Medicine
Department of Internal Medicine
University of Colorado
EC declares that he has no competing interests.
Department of Cardiology
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
SWY declares that he has no competing interests.
Basic Physician Trainee RACP
PR declares that he has no competing interests.
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