Edema can be a dangerous condition. But for others, edema is only temporary and gets better on its own with simple home remedies and changes in diet and lifestyle. Alternative remedies, such as essential oils, may also help relieve its symptoms. In this article, you’ll discover important facts about edema and some of the popular essential oils that could help.
- 1 What Exactly Is Edema?
- 2 There are four common types of edema, namely:
- 3 What are the possible causes of edema?
- 4 How do you treat edema?
- 5 Best Essential Oils for Edema?
- 6 Performing Lymphatic Massage for Edema
What Exactly Is Edema?
Edema is a symptom of an illness. It refers to the build up of excess fluid in the spaces within your body tissues that are outside of your blood vessels (interstitial spaces). It can affect any part of your body, but it’s more common in your legs, feet, ankles, arms, and hands. Sometimes, it can affect the lungs, brain, eyes, muscles, and bowels.
The symptoms of edema will depend on the cause and area of your body that’s affected. Some of the general signs and symptoms of edema include:
- Swelling of the tissues beneath your skin, particularly in your arms and legs, due to the accumulated fluid
- The swollen area might look dimpled after being pressed.
- The skin covering the swollen area is stretched and shiny.
- An increase in size of the affected area
There are four common types of edema, namely:
This type of edema normally happens in the lower extremities, such as the arms, ankles, feet, and legs. General symptoms of peripheral edema include:
- Swelling, which makes it hard to put your stockings, socks, or shoes on and off
- Pain or stiffness
- The swollen leg or foot feels heavy and is difficult to move
- Stretched and shiny skin
- Dimpled skin (after applying pressure on your skin for a few seconds)
Pedal edema refers to the fluid retention in the foot (or feet). Although anyone can be affected, it’s more common in adults, pregnant women, and overweight or obese people.
Chronic pedal edema doesn’t just change your foot or leg’s appearance, but it can also hurt your health and quality of life. It affects the way you walk and makes you more vulnerable to injuries, skin ulcers, and sensory loss, particularly your sense of touch or sensation.
Cerebral edema, also known as brain swelling, is often the result of an injury, ischemic stroke, and inflammation due to a disease, such as meningitis. This is a serious type of edema, so if you suddenly experience these symptoms, seek prompt medical care:
- Painful or stiff neck
- Breathing problems
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vision changes
- Speech problems
- Loss of memory
- Inability to stand or walk
When you have macular edema, excess fluid will accumulate in your macula. The macula, also called fovea, is the central area of the retina, which lines the inside of the eye. It helps us see straight in front of us in fine detail. Common causes of macular edema are:
- Diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease caused by high blood sugar levels
- Eye surgery
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Genetic disorders (such as retinitis pigmentosa)
- Inflammatory eye diseases
- Retinal vein occlusion or “eye stroke,” a blockage of one of the small veins that transport blood away from the retina
What are the possible causes of edema?
Mild edema could result from:
- Eating too much high-sodium meals
- Staying in one position (sitting or standing) for a long time
- Menstruation and pre-menstruation (due to low levels of progesterone)
- A side effect of certain mainstream medicines, such as steroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), blood pressure medicines (specifically calcium channel blockers), diabetes medicines (specifically thiazolidinedione), and birth control pills
Sometimes, edema could indicate that you’re suffering from a serious medical condition, such as :
- Heart failure, also called as congestive heart failure (CHF)
- Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- Kidney disease
- A poorly working lymphatic system, which helps your body to rid itself of harmful toxins
- Weakened or damaged veins in your legs
- Significantly low levels of protein in your blood
Bilateral edema (affecting both legs or feet) in adults is typically caused by :
- An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
- Impaired flow of the lymphatic system
- Heart failure
- Pulmonary hypertension, a high blood pressure type that affects the large blood vessels in the lungs and the right side of the heart
- The valves in the leg veins are not working properly (venous insufficiency)
- Certain medications (e.g., NSAIDs and calcium channel blockers)
How do you treat edema?
To successfully treat edema, doctors will usually identify the root cause of the swelling and review your medical history. For instance, you might take diuretics to treat edema caused by congestive heart failure. Diuretics, also known as water pills, make your kidneys eliminate more salt (sodium), which takes water with it into your urine. This helps reduce edema.
If you have a blood clot in your leg, your doctor may prescribe blood thinners (anticoagulants), such as warfarin, to prevent or reduce coagulation of blood. Depending on the size of the clot, people with deep vein thrombosis (DVT) may experience mild to severe leg or arm swelling and pain.
Mild edema doesn’t always require intensive medical care. Sometimes, it just goes away on its own, especially if you help things along by using self-care strategies, such as:
- Elevate your swollen body part, particularly your leg or arm, above the level of your heart. Do it several times in a day, including during sleep.
- If the cause is a sedentary lifestyle, exercise regularly or engage in any physical activity, such as sports.
- Wear compression garments (stockings or sleeves) to prevent fluid from accumulating in the tissue or to reduce mild to severe swelling.
- Use certain massage techniques, such as deep strokes, effleurage, and lymphatic drainage, to reduce swelling. This should be done by an expert.
- Limit your salt intake to prevent further fluid retention. Examples of high-sodium foods are salted nuts, breakfast cereals, canned soups and vegetables, deli meats, frozen meals, hot dogs, spaghetti sauce, condiments (e.g., ketchup and soy sauce), and some dairy products (e.g., cheeses and buttermilk).
Best Essential Oils for Edema?
Most essential oils that are included in this list have diuretic effects, which help remove excess fluids and toxins from your body. Some essential oils contain properties that can support kidney health and manage the underlying causes of edema, such as obesity, hypothyroidism, and diabetes. But before you use any of them, speak with your doctor first to be sure it’s not going to make your condition worse.
Now, let’s go through some of these essential oils.
Fennel Essential Oil
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for edema because the excess weight decreases or cuts off blood flow. This causes fluid to accumulate in your ankles, legs, and feet.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is extensively used as a digestive and weight-loss aid, and it seems its essential oil also has these qualities. However, it’ll work better if you use it while following an effective weight loss plan, which includes a healthy, balanced diet, regular exercise, and other safe strategies for losing weight.
How will fennel essential oil help you shed the extra pounds?
It works by increasing your metabolism, suppressing your appetite, and reducing cravings. According to a study conducted by a group of Korean researchers, inhalation of this essential oil improved digestion and decreased caloric intake in lab rats. 
Risks and Contraindications
Fennel essential oil contains anise camphor, which may increase estrogen levels in your body.  If you’re pregnant or have a medical condition that affects your estrogen hormone, this essential oil might not be for you. Other people who should avoid this essential oil are women with endometriosis, people with estrogen-linked cancer, and people with epilepsy.
Here are some of the side effects of fennel essential oil:
- Irritated skin
- Inflamed skin (dermatitis)
- Photosensitivity symptoms: sunburn, rashes with or without itching, discolored skin, and small blisters
Grapefruit Essential Oil
Just like fennel essential oil, grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) essential oil is a good remedy for edema caused by excess body weight. It works in multiple ways: When you inhale its therapeutic vapor, it stimulates your body to break down stored fat.  It also stops your cravings for foods and drinks that are high in sugar, which is fattening. 
One of the best strengths of grapefruit essential oil is its ability to stimulate lymph movement and drainage.  The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs that work together to eliminate toxins, wastes, and other unwanted substances from your body, as well as maintain fluid balance between the body tissues and blood. If your lymphatic system isn’t working properly, the tissues of your body, particularly in your arms and legs, become swollen due to fluid retention.
Risks and Contraindications
Unlike grapefruit juice, grapefruit essential oil has no known drug interactions if you use it internally. Applying it to your skin is typically safe. However, it’s phototoxic, so you should avoid direct sun exposure, or at least wear protective clothing when going out during daytime, after topical application.
Geranium Essential Oil
Is your edema due to an underactive thyroid?
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) essential oil may offer some relief. This essential oil contains chemical compounds, particularly geraniol, alpha pinene, and myrcene, which could be useful in making new anti-inflammatory medicines. 
Chronic inflammation can harm your thyroid gland. For instance, in the United States, Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of an underactive thyroid. This disease causes your immune system to attack your thyroid gland, causing it to become inflamed and enlarged.
To use for improving thyroid health, simply dilute 1 drop of geranium essential oil in 1-2 teaspoons of mild carrier oil, such as coconut oil. Then, gently rub a few drops over or around the area where your thyroid gland is located.
Risks and Contraindications
Geranium essential oil is a relatively safe oil, but it may irritate the delicate skin of babies and children. Never diffuse or apply this essential oil near their nose because it may potentially cause severe side effects, or worse, death.
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Most eucalyptus essential oil products on the market are normally derived from the Eucalyptus globulus and Eucalyptus radiata species. Each eucalyptus species may slightly vary in their chemical components, but there’s no doubt that all of them have an extensive list of health benefits.
If left untreated, edema could result in skin ulcer, which could lead to a serious infection. Topical remedies containing eucalyptus essential oil may help prevent or treat infected skin ulcers because of its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory chemical compounds.
Poor circulation can cause different problems. For instance, it can delay the healing of wounds or ulcers. It could also cause blood and other fluids to pool in your veins in certain areas of your body, such as your feet, ankles, and legs.
Eucalyptol, which makes up 70 to 90 percent of eucalyptus essential oil, is a powerful vasodilator. When this essential oil is absorbed by your body, eucalyptol can expand your blood vessels, which in turn improves blood flow throughout your body. 
In some instances, edema may cause pain in the affected areas. Eucalyptus essential oil doesn’t only promote better circulation and fight infection, but it also has pain-relieving effects. A study has shown that patients who have undergone a total knee replacement (TKR) surgery experienced a decrease in pain and blood pressure after inhaling eucalyptus essential oil. 
Risks and Contraindications
Eucalyptus essential oil is normally safe, except for babies, children (below the age of 6), cancer patients, asthmatics, and people on sedatives. Never ingest this because of the risk of poisoning, which may cause these signs and symptoms:
- Loose, watery stools
- Pinpoint pupils (unusually small pupils under normal lighting conditions)
- Stomach pain
- Muscle weakness
Bergamot Essential Oil
Chronic hypertension, including some medications for high blood pressure, can cause pitting edema by damaging your arteries (transports oxygen-rich blood throughout your body), heart, kidneys, and other vital organs. The researchers of a 2006 study discovered that bergamot (Citrus bergamia) essential oil, in combination with lavender and ylang ylang essential oils, can lower blood pressure levels.  The hypertensive patients inhaled this oil blend everyday for four weeks.
Warning: Don’t stop your high blood pressure medications without consulting your doctor first.
Bergamot essential oil also has antibacterial and disinfectant properties, which can help edema-induced ulcers heal faster and stop infections from developing. To keep your skin healthy or heal ulcers, dilute 5 drops of bergamot essential oil in 2 teaspoons of carrier oil then rub it on the infected area using a clean cotton ball.
Risks and Contraindications
If you’re going to apply bergamot essential oil to your skin, stay away from the sun for at least 12 hours. The bergapten and bergamottin in bergamot essential oil can increase your risk of sunburn because they soak up UV rays. The more you should avoid using this essential oil if you’re taking potentially photosensitizing medications, such as doxycycline, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and chlorpropamid.
Lemon Essential Oil
Getting immediate and proper treatment for kidney stones is crucial. Left untreated, kidney stones can constrict or block your ureters, the tube that carry urine from your kidneys to your bladder, and eventually cause kidney damage. Damage to your kidneys could decrease the levels of albumin in your blood, which can result in edema in your legs and around your eyes.
Lemon (Citrus limon) essential oil can help lessen your chance of forming kidney stones by improving the function of your kidneys and helping in cleansing your liver.  A relatively safe way to use diluted lemon essential oil to reduce your risk of kidney stones is by rubbing a few drops over your lower abdomen twice or thrice daily.
Just like grapefruit essential oil, lemon essential oil can help with weight loss. As what you learned earlier, increased weight is one of the possible causes of edema in the lower part of the body. Being overweight or obese can also double your risk of developing kidney stones.  With the help of d-limonene, this essential oil promotes weight loss by increasing your metabolism and stimulating lymphatic drainage to remove toxins, wastes, and excess fluids.
Risks and Contraindications
Lemon essential oil can cause extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet rays from the sun and other sources, such as tanning beds. It could cause burns, rashes, or even blisters. So, be sure to avoid the sun or other UV radiation-emitting sources for at least 12 hours after applying this essential oil to your skin.
Ingesting lemon essential oil, especially in large amounts, could make heartburn and ulcers worse. It could also cause nausea, vomiting, and upset stomach. Always consult a doctor before using this internally.
Juniper Berry Essential Oil
Juniper berry essential oil is extracted from the berry of the coniferous shrub known as Juniperus communis. This is a good remedy for edema because it’s a diuretic.  This means it increases the frequency and volume of urination, which in turn removes excess water from your body and reduces swelling.
Some studies suggest juniper berry essential oil contains strong antioxidants that can keep you healthy. According to an animal study published in the open access journal Antioxidants, researchers discovered it has the potential to boost the activity of certain antioxidants, namely catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and superoxide dismutase.  Antioxidants play a crucial role in the prevention of many diseases that could cause edema, such as heart disease and hypertension.
Risks and Contraindications
Juniper berry essential oil is usually non-sensitizing and non-toxic if you use it topically. Like most essential oils, it may not be good for babies, children, and pregnant women.
Consuming large amounts of this essential oil could cause kidney irritation. See your doctor immediately if you suddenly develop these symptoms:
- Blood in your urine
- Tiredness or low energy
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Foamy urine
- Sleep difficulty
- Dry and itchy skin
Performing Lymphatic Massage for Edema
What you need:
- 5 drops eucalyptus essential oil
- 5 drops juniper berry essential oil
- 5 drops lemon essential oil
- 6 teaspoons (1 fl oz) carrier oil (e.g., coconut oil and almond oil)
- A dark glass bottle with dropper
- Pour the carrier oil of your choice into the dark glass bottle before pouring the essential oils, one drop at a time.
- Stir using a glass rod or stainless steel stirrer. Or, gently shake the bottle.
- Apply 2-5 drops of the oil blend to the affected extremity, and then perform manual lymphatic drainage:
- Find a flat surface where you can lie down comfortably.
- Elevate the affected arm or leg above the level of your heart to reduce pain and swelling.
- Massage starting on the upper part of your limb (leg, feet, ankle, or arm) and work your way towards the direction of the heart. Use light, brief, and fluid strokes.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times.
Warning: Improper massage of the affected area could increase swelling.
When to Seek Medical Help
Essential oils may work on mild or uncomplicated cases of edema. However, they can only treat the symptoms of edema, not its underlying cause. Therefore, don’t use them as replacements for conventional medical treatment.
If you experience these symptoms, see your doctor immediately:
- Breathing difficulties or extreme shortness of breath (dyspnea), which becomes worse when you’re lying down or engaged in a simple physical activity
- Pain in the chest
- Cold sweats
- Wheezing, a high-pitched whistling sound that’s most obvious when exhaling
- Persistent leg pain and swelling after staying in one position for a prolonged period (indicates a deep vein blood clot)
What are your thoughts on essential oils for edema? Please leave your comments below, and let me know what you think!
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