What is Anasarca ?
Definition : A generalized swelling of the body secondary to abnormal fluid retention in the tissues is called anasarca. Other names for anasarca are generalized edema, massive edema, and dropsy. Anasarca shouldn’t be taken lightly as it is an indicator of a serious health condition.
It could indicate excessive fluid retention which has something to do with your kidneys, blood vessel abnormalities, and blockage in the lymphatic vessels. (1, 2, 3)
Anasarca ICD 10 – R60.1
Picture Source: A child with generalized body swelling (anasarca).
Image Source: diseasenames.com
Causes of Anasarca
There are a variety of possible reasons for anasarca. The most common ones include the following:
- Excessive consumption of salty foods (sodium)
- Physiologic effect of pregnancy
- Congestive heart failure
- Side effects of medication (5)
- Thyroid abnormalities
- Kidney disease
- Hookworm infection
- Album deficiency
- Liver-related disease
- Protein deficiency (4)
Picture 2: Pregnant women are prone to anasarca.
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Picture 3: Generalized swelling is most likely to occur in burn patients secondary to fluid shift.
Image Source: clinicalgate.com
Picture 4: A kidney-related disease affects the kidney’s ability to excrete urine leading to fluid retention.
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Anasarca makes the patient’s body bloated. This results in rapid weight gain. The weight gain is extreme that the patient finds it difficult to move around. In fact, the patient’s ability to perform activities of daily living is greatly affected.
With anasarca, the whole body is edematous (head to toe). Cardinal signs and symptoms of anasarca include the following:
- Blood pressure irregularity (too high/too low)
- Abnormal heart rate (too fast/too slow)
- Swelling of the face, which affects the patient’s ability to see
- Dimpling in the skin after pressing a finger for a few seconds
- Liver and kidney abnormalities
- Moderate to severe pain in the swollen parts of the body
- Generalized body weakness and fatigue
- Vomiting and gastrointestinal-related complaints
- Easy bruising
- Restlessness, especially at night
- Anemia (4, 5, 6, 7)
Picture 5: The classic signs and symptoms of anasarca.
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Signs and symptoms that warrant immediate medical attention are as follows:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- dyspnea (difficulty breathing) (2, 3)
These are indicators that the fluid has built up inside the patient’s lungs. It is a life-threatening situation. If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, then you need to send the patient to the emergency room.
If you notice that your body starts to swell and you start gaining weight, but your eating habit has not changed, then you should begin suspecting an underlying health condition. More so, if swelling and weight gain come with other alarming symptoms such as the ones mentioned above.
You should set an appointment with your doctor to determine the underlying cause. The doctor will conduct a thorough physical examination along with blood work and diagnostic procedures.
- Blood test – It is ordered to check for the functions of the heart, kidneys, and liver. It also detects the level of haemoglobin.
- Echocardiogram (heart ultrasound)
- CT scan – To check the condition of the vital organs in the chest cavity such as the lungs and heart)
- Allergy test
- Stress test – To check the function of the heart. (6, 8, 9, 10)
For anasarca to completely go away, the underlying cause should be identified and treated. Keep in mind that anasarca is not a medical illness but is a symptom of an underlying health condition.
- Get rid of excess fluids – To remove excess fluids from the tissues, the doctor will put the patient on loop diuretic (drugs that induce urination). The common drug of choice is furosemide (Lasix). In some instances, the doctor might prescribe other forms of diuretics such as potassium-sparing diuretics (if the patient’s potassium level is low) and thiazide diuretics.
- Eliminate swelling – One of the effective and fastest ways to get rid of swelling is by taking a large dose of detoxifier such as alfalfa. The patient’s diet is modified. A protein-rich diet can effectively help in the reduction of swelling and edema. Protein rich foods include chicken and eggs. Salt intake is reduced to a minimum as it can promote fluid retention causing swelling.
- Management of pitting edema – for women with pitting edema, they are encouraged to wear high quality hose for optimum level of support. Fluid intake should be reduced too. (2, 5, 8, 9)
Picture 6: Lasix is a diuretic of choice for patient with anasarca.
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Managing anasarca at home
- Pay particular attention to what you eat. You should decrease your intake of foods high in salt (sodium) as sodium promotes fluid retention.
- Massage your body towards the direction of the heart. Doing so can help reduce the swelling. Make sure you use a gentle pressure to prevent bruising and other complications.
- Be active. Exercise if you must, but don’t overdo it, especially if you have heart problems. The goal of being active is to promote sweating which will help get rid of excess fluid in the body. For people who can’t perform rigorous exercise, the best option is to take part in a sauna.
- Excess fluids in the body can be eliminated by increasing your intake of foods rich in bioflavonoids such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
- You have to avoid certain food groups such as beef, chocolate, and dairy products. You should also completely avoid alcoholic beverages as they can promote fluid retention.
- When resting, you have to elevate your feet to promote blood flow to the veins. (4, 7, 8, 10)
Picture 7: Fresh fruits and vegetables help the body recover from various forms of illnesses such as the ones causing anasarca.
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Picture 8: Sauna makes you sweat, which helps get rid of excess fluids and toxins from the body.
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Anasarca, while not a real medical disease, shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is an indicator of a serious underlying health condition. It should be dealt with the soonest time possible as anasarca itself causes pain and discomfort to the patient.
The patient should not only receive physiologic support. He should also receive emotional support. As you know, anasarca can be physically debilitating, especially in the advanced stage. It causes physical distortion and self-image destruction. Emotional support should be given to the patient.
To hasten the recovery period, it is important to strictly follow the treatment and management approach of your doctor. Take the necessary medications religiously. Follow home care instructions. Strictly adhere with the diet plan.
Always keep in mind that a health condition can be easily treated if it is in the early stage. Treatment gets difficult if the condition is already in the advanced stage. Therefore, if you feel like something is wrong in your body, you need to immediately consider an appointment with your doctor. Better safe than sorry. (1, 3, 6, 9, 10)