Edema is a relatively common health condition in seniors. In this article, we’ll define the term “edema” and explain how it relates to nursing home abuse.

Key Takeaways

  • Edema is swelling caused by fluid trapped in the body’s tissues
  • Edema is graded on a scale of severity from Grade 1 to Grade 4
  • Symptoms of edema include swelling, pain, difficulty walking, and more
  • Edema can be caused by a variety of things including inactivity, diseases, medication side effects, and more
  • Treatments for edema include lifestyle modifications and stopping or reducing the use of medication
  • Nursing home staff have a duty to prevent, take note of, and treat edema in their patients

What Is Edema?

Edema is swelling caused by fluid trapped in the body’s tissues. It occurs most often in the feet, ankles, and legs, but can also affect other body parts such as the face, hands, and abdomen. Anybody can get edema but it is most common in pregnant people and adults 65 years of age or older. 

Types of Edema

Edema is graded on a severity scale from Grade 1 to Grade 4. Healthcare providers can test an area of the body for edema by performing a pitting test. This requires gently pressing a finger onto the swollen area for 15 seconds and then releasing. The dimple that appears in the skin indicates fluid build-up. Edema is graded on how quickly the dimple goes back to normal after the test. The grades are defined as follows:

  • Grade 1: Immediate rebound with 2-millimeter pit
  • Grade 2: Less than 15-second rebound with 3 to 4-millimeter pit
  • Grade 3: Rebound greater than 15 seconds but less than 60 seconds with a 5 to 6-millimeter pit
  • Grade 4: Rebound between 2 to 3 minutes with an 8-millimeter pit

​​Edema Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of edema include:

  • Swelling in the body, usually the feet, ankles, and legs
  • Stretched, shiny skin
  • Difficulty walking
  • Coughing or trouble breathing
  • Sensations of fullness or tightness in the affected body part
  • Mild pain or soreness

Causes of Edema

Edema is relatively common because it has many possible causes. Among these are:

  • Side effects from certain medications 
  • Pregnancy
  • Compromised immune systems
  • Allergic reactions
  • Infections
  • Burns
  • Blood clots
  • Spending too much time sitting or standing in one place
  • Heart failure
  • Lung disease
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Thyroid disease
  • Venous insufficiency 
  • Poor nutrition

Treatment for Edema

Treatments for edema vary depending on the cause. For example, healthcare providers may recommend the patient quit smoking, cut back on alcohol, eat a healthier diet, lose weight, or stop using a certain medication. 

To treat the fluid buildup, patients can:

  • Elevate the legs above the level of the heart when sitting or lying down
  • Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time without moving
  • Wear supportive socks, stockings, or sleeves
  • Reduce salt intake
  • Take a diuretic 

Edema and Nursing Home Abuse

Older people are at a greater risk for edema because they typically have lower levels of activity, increased incidence of chronic health conditions, and higher intake of medications. Nursing home staff members have a duty to be aware of the risk of edema. They should take all possible steps to prevent patients from developing edema, such as giving them the necessary activity, and to treat edema should they notice it happening. Untreated edema can lead to complications, including: 

  • Stretched or itchy skin
  • Poor blood circulation
  • Scarring
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Skin ulcers
  • Dangerous skin infections
  • Reduced elasticity in arteries, veins, and joints
  • Weeping edema
  • Painful swelling

When a nursing home staff member’s neglect causes a patient to develop edema and/or any of its complications, it may be considered nursing home abuse. If you or a loved one experienced edema as a result of a nursing home caregiver’s negligent conduct, you may be eligible for compensation. It is recommended that you alert the proper authorities and consult with a nursing home abuse attorney to learn about your options.

Featured Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect Lawyers

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