Hola my Olive Crew, we’re in for quite a little edumacation today. I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘retaining water’. Here’s an extract from an email I received recently – “OMG Olivia, since I got pregnant, I’ve been retaining water like a camel.” But as misused as the term might be, there’s actually a lot of truth to it.
So today, I’ve decided to shed a little sunlight on this watery condition and see if we can’t make some steam. We’ll be looking at what exactly this phenomenon is and what the doctors call it (it’s Edema, was never good with suspense). We’ll also look at how it presents itself in the human body as well as all the likely causes and risk factors for it. And as always, we take a closer look at what western medicine passes for treatment these days, as well as my very own recommendations for alternative treatment. Well, what are you waiting for? It’s all down there!
What Is Edema?
Also known as oedema, Edema is simply the medical term used to describe swelling. But more specifically, it is used to describe the unusual buildup of fluid within the interstitium. This is the area beneath the skin and around other body cavities. The fluid usually accumulates in dependent areas like the legs, face, or even lungs. So if the retention is not due to injury, it can occur in either one or all of the dependent body parts.
Naturally, this causes a feeling of discomfort with restricted range of motion around the ankles and wrists. There’s also a fair degree of pain involved. While there are numerous causes for edema, it typically happens the same way for all types. Fluid leaks from your blood vessels into nearby tissues causing buildup and finally swelling. Here’s a look at the different ways edema manifests itself.
Types Of Edema
a) Peripheral Edema
This is the most well-known type whose swelling is heavily dependent on gravity. This means that the swelling can either increase or decrease depending on your body position. For instance, some people wake up in the morning all swollen due to lying down all night. But after a few hours of being upright, the swelling tends to go down. The symptoms of this type of edema include swelling of affected areas which causes the skin to tighten and seem shiny. And when pressure is applied, a deep indentation can be seen called pitting edema.
b) Pulmonary Edema
With this type of edema, there is usually no noticeable swelling or any evidence of fluid retention; even upon examining the patient’s extremities. That’s because the fluid is backing up into the lungs and collecting in the airsacs. This makes it very hard to breathe and get a comfortable sleeping position at night.
The swelling in the extremities for this type of edema is usually caused by substantial damage to the lymph nodes. These are the tissues that help filter out germs and waste. Underlying diseases could also be blocking the nodes leading to lymphatic fluid buildup.
d) Cerebral Edema
This is probably the most serious type of edema because fluid actually accumulates in the brain. This usually happens after a head injury where a blood vessel gets blocked or ruptured, or in the event of a brain tumor.
e) Macular Edema
This type of edema occurs when fluid accumulates in a part of the eye known as the macula. It is found at the centre of the retina; a light sensitive tissue found at the back of the eye. In any damaged blood vessels in the eye leak fluid in this area, then you’ll get macular edema.
Signs And Symptoms Of Edema
Clinically, edema manifests as swelling depending on which part of the body is affected. If it’s a small inflamed area such as a mosquito bite, you may not even notice anything. But if we’re talking large allergic reactions like poison ivy patches or bee stings, then the edema could spread thought he entire limb bringing about pain and restricted motion. That’s why certain types of edema will make your arms and legs heavy affecting even your walking.
If it’s food related edema, the allergic reaction may also cause swelling around the throat and tongue. Combine that with pulmonary edema and you have a serious hazard. Pulmonary edema will fill the lungs up with fluid making it extremely hard to breath. You may also experience shortage of breath, low blood oxygen levels and a cough. But perhaps the most notable symptom is pitting where an indentation remains after applying pressure on the skin for some types of edema. Here’s the usual roundup of symptoms to watch out for:
- Inflamed, swollen skin
- Tight skin with a glossy look
- Indentations or pitting of the skin
- Restricted range of motions (arms and legs)
- Swollen throat and tongue (food allergy edema)
- Pain and sensitivity on affected area
- Shortness of breath (pulmonary edema)
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
Causes And Risk Factors Of Edema
First off, let’s acknowledge that the regulation and balance of body fluids is incredibly complex. So while any type of edema is cause for concern, some of them are actually helpful. For instance, pooling of fluid in the blood vessels may be helpful in fighting off infections – which is actually the main purpose of inflammation. More fluid means more white blood cells around the affected area.
But it’s the cause of this fluid accumulation that we’re interested in. It’s usually the result of a wide range of mechanisms i.e. too much pressure in the vessels, a compromised blood vessel wall that can no longer maintain equilibrium or a force outside the vessel causing fluid to be drawn through. Here are some conditions that could trigger the above mechanisms and cause edema.
- Flow Obstruction – if drainage of any fluid from your body gets blocked, the it’ll back up. Maybe a blood clot developed in the legs causing leg edema or a tumor blocking flow to and from the brain causing cerebral edema.
- Allergies – As you’d expect, edema is a huge part of most allergic reactions. Blood vessels tend to leak fluid in response to allergens.
- Critical ailments such as life-threatening infections or high degree burns can cause a reaction that allows fluid leaks almost everywhere on the body. This is the most common cause of full body edema.
- Congestive heart failure or liver disease could also bring about edema. Liver diseases such as cirrhosis cause one to retain fluid while depleting protein and albumin levels. For the heart, any weakening will cause slower pumping leading to buildup and finally edema.
- Head Trauma, brain tumors, high altitudes and hydrocephalus could all be responsible for causing cerebral edema. So could a coma, unconsciousness or headaches.
- Pregnancy – Mild leg edema is very common for pregnant women. However, complications of pregnancy such as preeclampsia and deep vein thrombosis could also cause edema.
- Medications – The list of meds that can cause edema is staggering. You’ve got the usual culprits such as NSAIDs which are known for causing more problems and complications than benefits. Calcium channel blockers and corticosteroids have also been identified as causes of edema.
Preventing And Treating Edema
Edema Prevention 101
Before we get to some of the different ways to treat edema, there are a few things you could do to lower the risk of getting it in the first place. They may not be prevention measures as such, but they greatly reduce your chances of this and other complications. They include:
- Getting a moderate amount of exercise which helps prevent inactivity related edema
- Avoiding packaged, processed foods high in salt and choose healthier alternatives
- Try massages or acupuncture
- Wear support stockings
Again, avoiding the above things along with allergen triggers should keep edema at bay. But if the edema is caused by more serious health conditions such as liver disease, heart failure or kidney problems, then there’s no way you can prevent it. Your only hope is managing the condition by treating all underlying causes. In general, the main principle here is to reverse all forces that aren’t working as they should. This means identifying the cause of leaking vessels, increasing forces that keep fluid in the blood vessels, and reducing forces that cause the fluid to leak out in the first place.
With mild cases of edema, they tend to go away all on their own – especially in the case of peripheral edema. All patients have to do is position the affected body parts in a way that improves drainage. For instance, lying down with the feet propped higher may help reduce the swelling. Likewise, intermittent pneumatic compression could be used to pressurize tissue and force fluids out of the affected area.
In the case of allergic edema, the treatment will follow the normal course of antihistamines and allergen management. Likewise, edema caused by clots can sometimes be treated by using blood thinners to break down the clot and restore drainage back to normal. In the case of severe edema such as congestive heart failure or liver disease, the edema is usually treated with diuretics. These water pills let you pee more so the fluid can flow from your body. Cerebral edemas are where things get a bit tough and complicated. To treat it, the doctors have to either shrink the tumor with radiation or remove it with surgery and chemotherapy.
Can Essential Oils Help At All With Edema?
I know I’m always ranting about the side effects of these medications, but there are times when taking a route you don’t want is the only way through. Nobody can argue with the benefits of chemo – as brutal as the side effects may be. These therapies and surgical procedures have been helping beat tumors and cancers for decades now. So if the underlying cause of your edema is a tumor, liver or heart disease, this is one of those cases that western medicine makes a decent attempt to get things right.
Now, on to the good stuff; because no matter what the cause of your edema is, whether it’s mild or severe, essential oils can definitely help relieve most of the symptoms. These all natural extracts are literally brimming with a wide range of anti-inflammatory properties that help beat edema from both within and outside as well. That already lets you know it’s ideal for all types of edema – from pulmonary all the way to peripheral. Some of these oils even possess powerful diuretic properties that alleviate edema by reducing retention while draining excess fluid.
I could talk about the benefits of EOs for edema all day; instead, why don’t I just show you what they can do?
5 Best Essential Oils For Edema
1. Juniper Berry Essential Oil
Making an unforgettable impression with its crisp, sweet scent with woody notes, you’ll want to keep Juniper Berry EO at hand. The smell alone is enough to ease the nerves and distract the mind from discomfort. But what makes Juniper the best EO for edema is its potent diuretic properties that drain excess fluid from tissue and reduce puffiness. So yeap, that means you’re going to pee a lot. Juniper is also a natural detoxifying agent that also promotes sweating to release fluid and toxins from your body – call it a double whammy for edema if you will.
2. Tea Tree Essential Oil
One of the causes of edema is as a result of infections. Whether it was a cut that seeped harmful pathogens in your bloodstream or an infection causing internal edemas, one thing is clear. You’ll need a natural antibacterial agent to deal with the infection. Tea Tree EO might just be one of the best antiseptic for treating and disinfecting abrasions that may be causing the edema. Combine this with the fact that Tea Tree promotes better circulation and you can already see a potential remedy for peripheral edema.
3. Geranium Essential Oil
The reason why I’ve placed Geranium so high up this list is because it’s the King of NON. This is what I mean; Geranium EO is non-sensitizing, non-toxic, and non-irritant! What better oil to use for edema? But it doesn’t end there. Geranium EO is also an antibacterial and antiseptic agent that works great for several skin problems. In addition to reducing inflammation, it’s also an antidepressant that promotes chemical balance, reduces fatigue, enhances mood and promotes emotional wellness.
4. Cypress Essential Oil
Cupressus sempervirens – here’s another EO that is a must have is you suffer from chronic edema. Cypress EO has been found to have a rare, venotonic component that allows it to decongest capillaries, veins and relieve excess fluid from the body. This makes it ideal for treating edema brought by both lymphatic and venous system disorders. Of course, the oil wouldn’t be able to achieve this without diuretic properties which are further boosted by the anti-inflammatory compounds. There’s also one more thing that Cypress EO can do that many people don’t know. Turns out that Cypress is also great for cellulite too – it can help you shed a couple pounds if you’re up for it.
5. Fennel and Wintergreen Essential Oils
Instead of talking about these essential oils individually, let’s combine them to get an even more effective oil. If you’re looking to get rid of any type of swelling, fennel oil has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can be exploited and enhanced further by complimenting with wintergreen. Wintergreen EO may not be as popular as all the others, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable or potent. It truly is one of the most effective natural painkillers for any sore part of your body. Some types of edema come with a lot of pain and discomfort, it helps to relieve the pain some whenever you can. Combine the healing properties of fennel with wintergreen’s analgesic capabilities and you’ve got a solid remedy for peripheral edema.
5 Essential Oil Recipes For Edema
Recipe 1: Edema Massage Oil Blend
- 12 drops Juniper Berry EO
- 10 drops Geranium EO
- 10 drops Lemon EO
- 8 drops Cypress EO
- 2 oz. (60ml) Carrier oil (I like sweet almond)
If you suffer from chronic edema, then chances are that your doctor’s already told you in depth about the benefits of massages. This especially applies to peripheral edema, but all other types will benefit as well. A massage helps to actively get the blood flowing and decrease any accumulation in the tissue. For this one, combine all the ingredients in a glass vial and shake well. Once everything is well mixed in, use about 8-10 drops to massage the affected area. Make sure to massage towards the direction of the heart.
Recipe 2: EO Fluid Draining Recipe
- 12 drops Grapefruit EO
- 8 drops Juniper Berry EO
- 6 drops Rosemary EO
- 8 drops Cypress EO
- 4 drops Wintergreen EO
- 2 oz. Fractionated coconut oil
Plain and simple – edema is the accumulation of excess fluid in your body. So, if you can get rid of the excess fluid, then it goes without saying that the edema will clear. You’ll notice that most of the oils we used for this recipe are highly diuretic – so get ready to pee gallons guys. For this fluid draining recipe, start by adding the EOs in a non-reactive container and mix them up while adding the fractionated coconut oil. Now you have a handy rub available. Just put a few drops of the mix on your palms and massage the affected area towards the heart. Elevate your limbs higher than your heart to actively help with the fluid draining.
Recipe 3: EO Cold Compress for Edema
- 6 drops Juniper Berry EO
- 4 drops Fennel EO
- 3 drops Tea Tree Oil
- Pint of cold water
You’ve seen the movies – guy gets punched one minute, then next he’s holding a piece of frozen steak over his black eye. It’s nothing but science 101 guys. Cold temperatures help bring down swelling much faster than if you waited for nature to take its course. Start by mixing the oils in the pint of cold water (mix the EOs in a spoon of milk for ease of blending). Soak a small towel in the blend and wring out the excess water. Place the cold compression the affected area an apply pressure. It might be a bit painful, but the swelling goes down much faster.
Recipe 4: EO Foot Soak for Peripheral Edema
- 8 drops Cypress EO
- 7 drops Tea Tree EO
- 3 drops Juniper Berry EO
- 2 drops Wintergreen EO
- Quarter Cup Epsom Salts
The feet are perhaps the most affected by edema. It’s not too uncommon for people with edema to have swollen legs, hands, or appendages in the morning due to lying down. A foot soak will work wonders and get your feet ready for a tough day. Fill a small foot tub with hot water and throw in the Epsom salts. Once they disperse, add in the EOs and carefully immerse your feet. Let them soak for about 10 to 20 minutes and repeat after every couple of days. The soak is also safe and even recommended for pregnant women as well (if pregnant, don’t add wintergreen).
Recipe 5: Anti-Edema EO Diffuser Blend
- 5 drops Lemongrass EO
- 4 drops Juniper Berry EO
- 3 drops Atlas Cedarwood EO
If you’re having trouble sleeping or have sensitive skin, diffusing is always a great option. Just add in all the essential oils named above and diffuse normally for a few hours. Diffusing one a day for about 3 hours is enough to start reaping the benefits of these EOs. And you don’t have to worry about irritating sensitive skin. If you need advice on what’s the best diffuser to use, click here for more info.
We’ve come to the close of yet another highly informative segment. Didn’t I tell you this one was going to be special? Now that you know what edema is and its various causes, preventing it should be easier now. And if you’ve already got it, then treatment can be as simple as addressing the underlying causes.
Don’t forget that most cases of edema are often symptoms of a much serious disease, so keep alert and never assume. Either way, essential oils will prove a valuable ally in the fight against edema. So grab a few and keep your medicine cabinet stocked.