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Heat Edema - Types, Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms and Diagnosis

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Heat edema is characterized by the swelling of the hands and feet when the person stands in hot temperatures for long. Read the article to learn more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Seela Pranavendranath

Published At May 5, 2022
Reviewed AtFebruary 3, 2023

What Is Edema?

Edema is nothing but a medical term for swelling that occurs when excess fluids get trapped in the body tissues. There are several causes of edema or swelling, and they can affect any part of the body. The hands, legs, ankles, arms, and feet are most commonly affected due to edema. Pregnant females and older adults are at a higher risk of developing edema, but it can affect anyone.

What Are the Different Types of Edema?

Edema or swelling can occur in any organ of the body due to the accumulation of fluids. The different types of edema are listed below:

  • Peripheral Edema - Peripheral edema is mainly seen in the legs, feet, and ankles. It is usually a sign of problem in the lymph nodes, kidneys, and circulatory system.

  • Pedal Edema - It occurs when the fluid accumulates in the feet and lower legs. Pregnant females are more likely to experience pedal edema, making it difficult for them to move the part that is swollen.

  • Pulmonary Edema - Pulmonary edema happens due to the accumulation of fluids around the lungs. The patient experiences respiratory difficulties, irregular heartbeat, cough, and suffocation.

  • Cerebral Edema - It is a condition in which the fluids accumulate in the brain. It can happen due to head injury, blockage of the blood vessels, and brain tumor.

  • Macular Edema - Macular edema is a condition in which the fluid leaks into the macula. The macula is a part of the eye that is responsible for color vision. Macular edema occurs due to damage to the retinal blood vessels.

  • Lymphedema - Lymph nodes are the tissues that are present all over the body, and they help the body fight infections. When these lymph nodes get damaged, swelling of the arms and legs occurs, resulting in a condition known as lymphedema.

What Is the Meaning of the Term Heat Edema?

When the edema or swelling occurs due to prolonged exposure to heat, the condition is known as heat edema. During summers, the outdoor temperatures are usually high, and people love to spend time on the beaches, but they forget about the consequences of excessive heat. The rising temperatures cause the widening of the blood vessels. As a result, the fluid leaks out and gets stored beneath the skin resulting in edema or swelling.

How Is Heat Edema Caused?

The body uses the mechanism of peripheral vasodilatation in hot temperatures to maintain a normal body temperature. Vasodilatation is a phenomenon in which the blood vessels widen or open up to increase the blood flow to the lower extremities. Also, the skin loses a large amount of water through sweating when the outside temperatures are high. When the blood flow to the body organs increases, the tiny capillaries present in the body leak out fluids into the space present outside the cells; normally, this fluid is cleared up by the lymph nodes. However, the problem arises when the fluid is in excess, and the lymph nodes are unable to clear it. As a result, the fluid starts accumulating in the body parts, including the hands, legs, arms, and ankles, resulting in a condition known as heat edema.

Risk factors of heat edema

What Factors Increase the Risk of Heat Edema?

The factors that increase the risk of heat edema are listed below:

  1. Lack of Acclimatization - People who are not used to the hot weather or have not spent much time in hot temperatures are more likely to suffer from heat edema. It is because their body is unable to tolerate even the slightest amount of heat. This is known as the lack of acclimatization.

  2. Heart Failure - People suffering from heart diseases or congestive heart failure are more likely to develop heat edema. It is because the heart is unable to pump the blood properly. As a result, the blood flows back to the legs, feet, and ankles resulting in their swelling or edema.

  3. Diabetes - Diabetes or high blood sugar levels increase the risk of heat edema. It is because the excess glucose levels damage the small blood vessels resulting in impaired blood flow. When the blood does not flow properly, the fluid accumulates in the organs of the body.

  4. Kidney Diseases - The kidneys are the most crucial organs of the urogenital tract. They contain tiny units known as nephrons that filter the blood and form urine. The kidneys also work to reabsorb the essential minerals and electrolytes from the blood. It is the duty of the kidneys to remove the excess fluids and maintain the fluid levels of the body. However, when the kidneys fail to carry out their activities, the fluids accumulate in the body resulting in the swelling of the body parts.

  5. Pregnancy - Pregnant females should stay indoors during summer because they are more likely to suffer from heat edema. During pregnancy, the body retains more fluids compared to the normal conditions, which increases the risk of edema.

  6. Prolonged Standing - If the patient sits or stands for a long period in hot weather, he is more likely to develop heat edema. It is because the veins of the legs become weak, and the water accumulates in the feet due to gravity resulting in edema.

  7. Medications - The following medications increase the risk of edema:

    1. Antihypertensive drugs.

    2. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

    3. Steroids.

    4. Estrogen.

    5. Antidiabetic drugs.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Heat Edema?

Heat edema commonly occurs when people spend a lot of time under the sun or remain outside in summer for a prolonged period. The signs and symptoms of heat edema are listed below:

  • Swelling or puffiness in one or both the arms or legs.

  • The skin appears stretched and shiny.

  • When the swelling is pressed, it leaves a dent or a dimple, known as pitting edema.

  • Increased abdominal size.

  • It becomes difficult to move the part that is swollen. For example, the patients might experience walking difficulties if the legs are swollen.

  • Sometimes, the edema is accompanied by pain in the affected body part.

What Tests Are Done to Diagnose Heat Edema?

The diagnosis of heat edema is based on medical history, physical examination, laboratory tests, and imaging tests. The diagnostic methods have been described below:

  1. Medical History: The medical history provides information about the general health of the patient. It provides an idea about the symptoms of the condition, the drug history, and the other conditions the patient is suffering from. For example, patients living in hot environments and suffering from renal or cardiac diseases are more likely to develop heat edema. Similarly, heat edema is more likely to develop as a side effect in patients taking antihypertensive drugs for a prolonged period.

  2. Physical Examination: Swelling of the hands, arms, legs, and ankles is visible on physical examination. The doctor applies light pressure on the swelling with his finger for 10 to 15 seconds. If a dent or a depression is created when the pressure is removed, it is known as pitting edema.

  3. Laboratory Tests: Laboratory tests are usually recommended to check the urine output. The following laboratory tests must be done to diagnose heat edema:

    • Urinalysis - In this test, the patient collects the urine in a container. The urine sample is then sent to the laboratory for examination under a microscope. The presence of blood and bacteria in the urine is indicative of kidney disease.

    • Blood Tests - The doctor recommends the patient undergo a blood test to check the general health and the presence of infection.

  4. Imaging Tests: Imaging tests are usually recommended to check whether the fluids have accumulated in the other organs of the body. The following imaging tests are usually recommended:

    • Computerized Tomography (CT) Scans - This procedure provides three-dimensional (3D) images of the internal organs of the body. The patient is laid on a table that slides into a tunnel-like device where the X-rays are taken. These images help to check the accumulation of fluids in the other organs like the lungs, heart, liver, and abdomen.

    • Chest X-Ray - The X-ray machine is positioned near the chest of the patient to obtain the images. A chest X-ray is done when the patient experiences respiratory difficulties. It helps to check the accumulation of fluids in the lungs.

    • Ultrasound - It is an imaging test in which the sound waves are sent to the body to obtain images of the internal organs. The patient is laid on a table, and the doctor moves a device known as a transducer over the abdomen. The images are obtained on the computer screen. This test is especially done in pregnant females to check the fluid accumulation due to heat edema.

How to Manage Heat Edema?

Heat edema, or the swelling that occurs due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures, usually subsides after some time. However, the following methods help to treat heat edema:

  • Elevation - The patient must elevate his legs several times during the day to improve the flow of blood to the body organs. Keep 2 to 3 pillows below the legs while sleeping as it improves blood circulation and prevents the accumulation of fluids.

  • Compression Stockings - Compression stockings are of great help in reducing swelling, and they are easily available in the medical store. These stockings put pressure on the legs and do not allow the fluids to accumulate in a place.

  • Take a Break - Avoid standing for prolonged periods in hot weather as it increases the risk of edema. Take a break and sit for 10 to 15 minutes in a cool place for proper fluid movement.

  • Consume Less Salt - Salts contain a large amount of sodium which increases the risk of edema. Salty food items like potato chips, salted peanuts, and pizza must be avoided to prevent heat edema.

  • Stay Indoors - If the patient is unable to tolerate heat, he must avoid going out and must stay at home. It is because the risk of heat edema increases due to a lack of acclimatization.

  • Drink Water - Drink a sufficient quantity of water daily to prevent dehydration, especially in hot weather. Water helps to flush out the waste products from the body.

  • Maintain a Healthy Weight - People who are obese tend to hold a large amount of fluids in their bodies. A healthy diet and exercise are the two keys to maintaining a healthy weight.

  • Keep Moving - Do not sit in the same position for a long time. Go for a walk regularly as it helps to improve blood circulation.

  • Medications - Medications, mainly diuretics help to remove the excess fluids from the body. Consult the doctor before taking any such medications.

  • Quit Smoking - Live a healthy life and quit smoking because it increases the risk of liver and lung diseases. Bronchitis and emphysema are one of the causes of edema.

Conclusion:

Heat edema is a condition in which some parts of the body, like the hands, legs, ankles, and arms, swell due to excessive heat. This condition is mainly seen in summers because the outdoor temperatures are usually high during that time. Pregnant females and elderly people are more likely to be affected by heat edema. Also, the ones who are not used to the high temperatures, suffering from kidney diseases, diabetes, and cardiac diseases are at a higher risk of developing heat edema. Excessive heat causes the widening of the blood vessels. As a result, the fluid leaks out and accumulates beneath the skin. If the condition is left untreated for long, the fluids accumulate in other organs of the body like the lungs, liver, heart, and brain. Maintaining a healthy weight, keeping the legs elevated during sleep, drinking plenty of water, staying indoors in summer, and living a healthy life are some of the ways to prevent heat edema. Consult the doctor to know more about heat edema and the ways and means to prevent it.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

How Can a Person Get Rid of Heat Edema?

Heat edema is characterized by the swelling of the body parts due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures. The following measures help to get rid of heat edema:
- Elevate your legs several times a day to improve your blood circulation.
- Do not stand in the hot weather for too long.
- Wear compression stockings to reduce the swelling.
- Avoid salty food items.
- Stay hydrated.
- Exercise regularly and stay fit as obesity increases the risk of edema.
- Avoid sitting or standing in the same position for too long.
- Quit smoking and live a healthy life.
- Medications, mainly diuretics, help reduce the fluid levels of the body and prevent edema.

2.

Does Excessive Heat Worsen Edema?

Edema or swelling occurs when excessive fluids get trapped in the body tissues. For example, excessive heat causes the widening of the blood vessels. As a result, the fluid leaks out and gets stored in the body tissues, resulting in edema. Edema is a common problem during the summer season.

3.

Can Excessive Heat Be the Reason for Edema?

There are several causes of edema, including diabetes, pregnancy, heart failure, and kidney diseases. Excessive heat is one of the causes of heat edema because the fluid tends to leak out of the blood vessels at high temperatures. When this fluid remains in the body for long, it accumulates in the tissues and causes swelling or edema.

4.

Is There Any Medicine Available for Edema?

Edema is a medical term used to describe swelling of the body parts due to the accumulation of fluids. Diuretics, also known as water pills, are the commonly used drugs to treat edema. They stimulate the kidneys to form urine and expel the fluids from the body. The most commonly used diuretic to treat edema is Furosemide.

5.

Should I Drink More Water to Get Rid of Edema?

Edema occurs due to the accumulation of fluids, so it might sound a bit weird to drink more water to prevent edema. But the person should drink plenty of water and stay hydrated to prevent edema because water helps flush out the waste products from the body. If the person does not drink a sufficient amount of water daily, the fluids remain in the body. During summers, the person needs to drink more water than required to prevent dehydration and heat edema.

6.

How Should One Get Rid of Fluid in the Legs and Feet?

Edema or swelling of the legs and feet is a common problem in old people. The following tips help to reduce the swelling in the legs and feet:
- Keep a pillow beneath the legs while sleeping to raise them above the heart. This improves the blood supply to the body organs.
- Do leg exercises regularly. It helps to pump the fluid from the legs to the heart.
- Follow a low-sodium diet to prevent fluid accumulation and swelling.
- Wear compression stockings or support stockings to reduce the edema.
- Do not stand continuously in one place for too long. Take small breaks for 15 to 20 minutes and then work.
- Do not wear tight clothes or garters around the legs as it increases the risk of edema.
- Exercise regularly to maintain healthy body weight.

7.

Is Heat Edema a Sign of Danger?

As the name suggests, the edema or swelling that occurs due to heat or high temperatures is heat edema. Heat edema does not cause any major harm in most cases. However, it is dangerous under certain circumstances. For example, certain medical conditions like diabetes, cirrhosis, and heart failure increase the risk of edema and indicate something serious or dangerous.

8.

Can Heat Edema Be Dangerous at Any Point?

Deep vein thrombosis is a condition that makes heat edema a dangerous one. It is a disorder in which the blood clots break and travel freely in the body. Deep vein thrombosis is a life-threatening condition, and head edema increases its risk. The other complications or dangers of heat edema include the following:
- Pain due to swelling or stretched skin.
- Stiffness of the joints.
- Walking difficulties.
- Shortness of breath (pulmonary edema).
- Irritation and inflammation of the skin.
- Skin rashes or sores.
- Chest pain.
- Behavioral changes (cerebral edema).

9.

Does the Heat Make a Face Puffy?

Facial edema or puffiness of the face occurs mainly due to inflammation and the accumulation of fluids. There are several causes of facial edema, heat being one of them. When a person sits under the sun for a prolonged period, blood vessels become dilated, causing the leakage of fluids in the body tissues. Also, dry, itchy skin and a serious sunburn can make a face puffy or swollen.

10.

Is Facial Edema Dangerous?

Facial edema or facial swelling is not serious unless accompanied by a medical condition like anaphylaxis. People suffering from facial edema due to anaphylaxis can develop a severe allergic reaction in minutes or seconds. If the facial edema lasts for than a day, the following complications arise:
- Respiratory difficulties due to anaphylactic shock.
- Hypotension or low blood pressure.
- Dizziness.
- Skin reactions, including rashes and hives.
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

11.

How to Get Rid of Facial Edema?

The best way to get rid of facial edema is to identify the cause. For example, a patient suffering from facial edema due to an insect bite can apply an astringent. The other methods to get rid of facial edema are listed below:
- Over-the-counter Hydrocortisone cream helps to reduce the swelling.
- Apply an ice pack over the affected area.
- Avoid processed foods before going to bed.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Do not sleep over your belly.
- Avoid drinking alcohol and carbonated drinks.
- Wash your face with cold water after waking up as it provides relief from inflammation due to swelling.
- Apply cold cucumber over the puffy eyes as it contains antioxidants that help reduce the swelling.

12.

Do Fingers Swell in Heat?

Mild swelling of the fingers occurs in excessive heat. Swelling of the fingers is more commonly seen in females because heat increases the blood supply of the skin. As a result, more fluids get stored in the tissues of the hand, resulting in swelling in the fingers and hands.

13.

How Do You Get Rid of the Swelling in Your Hands?

The following tips help to prevent the swelling in the fingers and the hands:
- Keep your hand elevated to allow the fluids to return to the body and reduce the swelling.
- Apply a hot pack over the affected area for some time.
- Keep your hands in cold water for some time.
- Take a warm shower as it helps to reduce the swelling.
- Wear an orthotic to support the hand.
- Do not keep your hand in the same position for too long.
- Apply an ice pack over the affected area.
Dr. Seela Pranavendranath
Dr. Seela Pranavendranath

General Medicine

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