Swelling – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

  • Author :
  • TATA AIG Team
  • Published on :
  • 13/06/2023

Swelling is typically the result of inflammation. It occurs when a part(s), of your body, like the skin, organs, or other parts, becomes enlarged. It can be a result of many conditions, both minor and severe.

It can also result from trapped fluid in the body's tissues. Oedema is the medical term used for the swollen part's meaning. You must seek immediate medical attention if you experience rapid, unexplained swelling or whole-body swelling, along with unexplained weight gain and pain

Swelling Meaning: What Is Swelling?

Swelling can occur either internally or externally, affecting your outer skin and muscles. When swelling occurs in the joints, it's called an effusion. However, the most commonly used term to refer to swelling is oedema.

Swelling could mean any number of things since it's a symptom - a common one at that, of an underlying condition, disease, or inflammation. It could indicate anything - Externally, it could be something as minor as an insect bite or infection. If it's internal, it could be a side effect of medication or fatal injuries.

Oedema affects parts of your body and causes them to swell. Depending on the severity, it can affect your ability to do daily tasks. It can happen anywhere in your body, but the most common areas would be the ankles, feet, and legs.

This condition is also prevalent among senior citizens or people over 60. Tata AIG's senior citizen health insurance plan covers ailments and treatments associated with old age. Generally, moving around or elevating the swollen body part if you've been setting or standing for a long time helps reduce swelling.

In more severe cases like anaphylactic shock or anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction), where a person can experience whole-body swelling, they need immediate medical attention.

Swelling Symptoms

As stated, swelling occurs when a part of your body becomes enlarged due to fluid accumulation or your tissues. Insect bites or minor topical allergic reactions can also result in skin swelling and itchiness. Swelling can affect anyone of any age and occur anywhere on your body. The most common sites, however, are the feet, ankles, and legs. Swelling can also be divided into external swelling and internal swelling.

External swelling can either be localised or widespread. Localised swelling is most common and refers to one specific swollen area. For example, someone with an eye infection can experience swelling only around their eyes.

Here are some symptoms of external swelling:

  • The body part(s) is or appears larger than typical.

  • When lightly pressed, the skin over the swollen area looks stretched and shiny and holds a dimple for a few seconds.

  • Difficulty walking when your legs, ankles, or feet are swollen.

  • Mild pain or a sore feeling in the affected area.

  • Coughing or having trouble breathing.

  • You feel full, or there is a tightness in your swollen body part.

  • The swollen limb may feel heavy.

Internal swelling can result from injury or underlying conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, or cancer. If your swelling is internal, it may result in organic inflammation, fluid retention, or flatulence. Some of your symptoms may include the following:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Dizziness

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Insomnia

  • Flu-Like Symptoms

  • Pain

Seek immediate medical attention if you feel:

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Irregular heartbeat.

  • Chest pain.

  • Sudden and rapid swelling accompanied by pain.

Body Swelling Causes

Some causes of oedema include:

- Gravity: If you spend a lot of time sitting or standing for too long, it can result in fluid accumulation or your limbs (arms and legs). The water naturally pulls down to your legs and feet or arms.

- Pregnancy: The feet and legs are the most common sites of body swelling, as the uterus puts more pressure on the lower body parts.

- Hormonal Changes: These can include pre-menstrual, pregnancy, menopause, and old age, which all affect the body's hormonal levels and can result in swelling.

- Weakened Valves Of Your Veins: When the valves in your veins are weak, it makes it harder for them to pump blood back to your heart. This can lead to varicose veins and fluid build-up in your legs.

- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): Sudden swelling of one leg with calf muscle pain. This can be due to DVT, a blood clot in one leg vein that requires immediate medical attention.

- Underlying Medical Conditions: Conditions like heart failure, diabetes, cancer, lung, liver, kidney, and thyroid diseases have body swelling under their list of common symptoms.

This is where having a medical insurance plan can be most helpful, as they provide coverage for specific illnesses. You can compare health insurance plans on Tata AIG to decide the best plan for you.

- Side Effects From Medication: Some prescription medications for blood pressure or pain management have swelling as a side effect. These include NSAIDs, steroid medicines, estrogens, and certain diabetes medications.

- Poor Nutrition: Eating foods high in salt can result in a lot of water retention in your body, resulting in swelling or bloating of body parts.

- Compromised Immune System: This includes allergic reactions (severe and minor), infection, burns, trauma or clots that can lead to swelling.

- Anaphylaxis: A severe allergic reaction that results in whole-body swelling, difficulty breathing and, in some cases, a loss of consciousness. People experiencing anaphylaxis need immediate medical attention.

Swelling Diagnosis and Treatment:

Your doctor will provide a physical examination and use an oedema grading scale to determine the severity of the swelling. The test involves them pressing their finger on the swollen area of your skin for 15 seconds (pitting test). A dimple will appear on your skin. The grading scale measures how fast this dimple goes back to normal:

- Grade 1: Immediate recovery with 2 millimetres (mm) pit.

- Grade 2: Less than 15-second recovery with 3 to 4 mm pit.

- Grade 3: Longer than 15 seconds but less than 60 seconds with a 5 to 6 mm pit.

- Grade 4: Recovers between 2 to 3 minutes with an 8 mm pit.

Your doctor may also perform other tests like X-Rays, blood tests, CT scans, ECGs, and urine tests to rule out other underlying conditions.

As for treatment, it will depend entirely on your diagnosis since the swelling is merely a symptom. You may also be recommended to make specific lifestyle changes to manage the swelling. Some of which include:

  • Elevating your legs by putting a pillow underneath when you are sleeping or lying down.

  • Do not sit or stand for extended periods.

  • Wear compression stockings or sleeves to put pressure on parts of your body to prevent fluid accumulation.

  • Reduce your salt intake.

  • Taking your medication on time at the proper dosage. Your doctor may prescribe a diuretic or water pill to help your body eliminate the excess fluid


Swelling can be a result of anything. In most cases, it resolves on its own and does not need any medical intervention. However, suppose you have any of the underlying conditions mentioned here.

Conditions like cancer, lung, liver, kidney, and thyroid diseases require frequent medical treatments. These can be expensive, so health insurance is an excellent long-term solution.

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