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Oedema - fluid build up

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Oedema - fluid in a part of the body

If you notice that your legs or ankles seem puffy, you may be experiencing oedema (pronounced ‘e-dee-ma’). This is a build-up of fluid in a part of the body. Oedema causes your tissue to become swollen and can also cause:

  • skin discolouration
  • aches and tenderness
  • stiff joints
  • weight gain or loss
  • raised blood pressure and pulse

Oedema is most common in the feet and ankles but can develop in other parts of the body too. Causes of oedema include:

  • illness
  • side effects of treatment
  • being immobile for long periods
  • hot weather

Managing oedema

If you think you have oedema, let your nurse or doctor know. They can suggest ways to help. You may be referred to a physiotherapist or occupational therapist for advice. The healthcare professional treating you will look for the specific cause of your oedema. If they can identify it, they’ll treat it directly, instead of just giving you relief from the symptoms.

Options for managing oedema include:

  • using pressure stockings
  • putting your feet up when sitting
  • gentle exercise
  • medication

Lymphoedema

Another type of swelling in the body is lymphoedema. This develops because of a build-up of fluid in the fatty tissues just under the skin. It can occur in any part of the body, although it most commonly affects the arms and legs.  

People are affected by lymphoedema when their lymphatic system, which normally drains fluid away, is damaged or disrupted. This may be caused by an illness, surgery or treatments such as radiotherapy.

If you think you have lymphoedema, speak to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team about your concerns. They should then put you in contact with a specialist team for assessment, if one is available in your area. You can also contact the Lymphoedema Support Network   to find out about your local lymphoedema service. They can help you pursue treatment if it’s not offered locally.

Ascites - fluid in the abdomen

Some illnesses, including some types of cancer, can cause fluid to build up in the abdomen (the area of your tummy just below your ribs). When this happens, it’s known as ascites (pronounced ‘a-sigh-tees’).

Ascites could be caused by:

  • too much fluid being produced by the body
  • blockages, for example cancer cells, causing a build-up of fluid in the abdomen
  • fluid leaking out of veins and into the abdomen

Symptoms of ascites can include:

  • a swollen abdomen, or tightness in your tummy
  • back pain
  • difficulty sitting or moving about
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • constipation
  • breathlessness

Managing ascites

Tell your nurse or doctor about any symptoms you have that might be caused by ascites. This condition often requires specialist care. Treatment may include:

  • draining of the fluid from your tummy
  • medication to reduce the fluid and help with any pain   

Report any sudden or quick swelling in any part of your body to your doctor or nurse straight away – this may be a sign of something serious that needs immediate attention.


This content is provided for general information purposes only. It's not medical, financial, legal or personal advice. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. How our information is created and how it's used.

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