All the young guys want big arms and legs to impress the ladies. As we age, it becomes more difficult to keep that muscle tone and bulk. Even bodybuilders ‘ain’t what they used to be’. Many elderly people do seem to have larger arms and legs. Unfortunately, it’s not from building muscle. It’s from a condition called Edema. Specifically, Peripheral Edema. Peripheral Edema has two sub-types – Pitting Edema and Non-Pitting Edema.
Peripheral Edema occurs when fluid gathers in your extremities (arms and legs). That fluid makes your arms and legs swell up, making them heavy and often painful. It usually is because another condition is screwing up your body’s system of maintaining the right water level in your cells. The swelling may go down if you raise up your arm or leg and let gravity take effect.
Pitting Edema or Non-Pitting Edema?
When you see this swelling either in yourself or one of your more elderly family members, try to determine if it’s Pitting or Non-Pitting Edema. Press on the area with your finger. Pitting Edema will maintain an indentation from your finger even after you take your finger away. Non-Pitting Edema won’t leave a mark. In both cases the skin will probably feel warm.
Pitting Edema is usually caused by:
- Standing or sitting too long
- Pressure from your body weight on one of your arms or legs
- Too much sodium in your body
Most of those symptoms are easily remedied. Non-Pitting Edema is more nasty. It usually indicates another underlying health condition, most likely in the heart, lungs, kidneys or liver.
Causes of Edema
Some other causes of Edema might be:
- Inflammation – The swelling may be an allergy, a response to something traumatic (broken bone or sprain), an infection, arthritis, or another condition like gout or cellulitis. Poor diets can also lead to inflammation and eventually conditions like edema.
- Some medications – Some drugs may cause the body to lose control of their water level balance. NSAID’s (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) are a well-known culprit. NSAIDs include ibuprofen or naproxen. Blood pressure drugs can also cause Edema
- Low Protein in Your Blood – Besides the obvious risk factor in seniors not consuming enough protein, problems with your kidneys or liver may also be the reason.
- Vein Issues – If your veins ‘ain’t what they used to be’ they may have trouble transporting blood out to your hands and feet then back to your heart. Blood will pool in your arms and legs. Then the pressure will build up and force fluid into the surrounding tissue causing swelling. This is one of the biggest reasons for Edema in older people.
- Kidney problems – If your kidneys can’t remove enough sodium from your body, then the excess sodium will cause swelling.
- Heart problems – In the other conditions, we talked about your blood not flowing to your arms and legs well. That is an especially bad problem if the old ticker is not pushing the blood with the right amount of force. That lack of pressure will allow blood to gather around your heart and put pressure on your veins trying to bring the blood back. Pretty soon that pressure will push the fluid out, mostly into the legs.
Edema isn’t something to mess around with. If you see this swelling in an elderly person, or even a younger person, it’s worth having a doctor check it out.