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Tuesday, 28 August 2018 08:00

How to recognise oedema in your loved one

While a little bit of minor swelling or what appears to be weight gain may not seem like much cause for concern, it’s especially important to take note of these changes in seniors. Many seniors may already suffer from health complications such as kidney disease, heart disease, chronic respiratory infections or arthritis – these are conditions which can often spur on the development of oedema.

At one time this condition was known as dropsy, but today, its most commonly referred to as oedema, characterised by an excess fluid build-up seen in the hands, feet, ankles, wrists and legs. The most important thing for caregivers is to be able to accurately recognise oedema and its symptoms.

What causes oedema?

This condition develops when excess fluid begins to leak out of small blood vessels, becoming trapped in surrounding tissues. Oedema can often be triggered when a senior sustains some form of injury, such as a fall, surgery, allergic reaction or chemical changes in the body due to new medications.

Different forms of oedema

The most common form of this condition is known as peripheral oedema and most likely to occur in the feet, ankles, legs, hands and arms.

Generalised oedema is a condition that affects the entire body which begins to hold onto fluid, although swelling in the extremities is also common.

Then there are more specific forms of oedema, classified according to the organ that is affected, such as pulmonary oedema which affects the lungs, lymphedema which affects the lymphatic system or corneal oedema which affects vision.

Symptoms of oedema

As mentioned, it’s vitally important for caregivers to know what to look for when it comes to the early development of oedema in seniors. Some of the most common symptoms to keep on your radar include:

  • Unusual swelling or puffiness of the skin
  • Skin that appears stretched, shiny or discoloured
  • Persistent aching in a certain body part
  • Stiff, rigid joints
  • Changes in weight, i.e. weight gain or an overall appearance of weight gain
  • Skin that tends to dimple for a while when pressed, not returning to its normal ‘smoothness.’

So, what are the treatment options?

Once you notice any of the above symptoms begin to appear, you must seek medical assistance right away. If oedema is left untreated, it can lead to serious complications down the line such as painful swelling, limited mobility, skin infections, poor blood circulation, skin ulcers and damage to arteries, veins and joints.

Make an appointment with your regular physician as soon as possible – they will do a thorough check-up and may need to make adjustments to certain medications.

Some of the most important things to do as a caregiver to help control bouts of oedema include serving healthy meals, and applying compression and massage therapy to the affected area. It’s important that the skin is regularly conditioned to keep it supple, and be sure to elevate your loved one’s feet and watch their fluid intake. 

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