What are the Causes and Treatment Options for Heat Edema?

Heat edema
Medically reviewed by Dr. Mavra Farrukh


Summer may not be a season for everyone, as the higher temperature outside can trigger a condition known as heat edema in some individuals. Heat edema is a condition in which body parts including the hands, arms, legs or ankles can swell due to excessive heat. Older adults or pregnant women are more likely to be affected by heat edema. Also, people who are sensitive to high temperatures or suffering from conditions including kidney diseases, diabetes, and cardiac diseases may be at higher risk of developing hands and feet swelling. The article is a must-read as it explores your most pressing questions, including, ‘Why do my hands and feet swell in the heat?’, ‘How do you reduce swelling in the heat?’ or ‘Why does my whole body swell in the heat?’

What is Heat Edema?

If the swelling occurs due to prolonged exposure to heat, the condition is termed heat edema. During summers, the temperatures outside are high, and if your ankles swell in heat or after spending time at the beach, you have to wonder, ‘Why do my feet swell at the beach?’ you may have fallen prey to heat edema. Extreme temperatures can cause the widening or dilatation of the blood vessels. Resultantly, the fluid leaks and collects beneath the skin resulting in swelling.

Why do I get heat edema?

The body operates on the mechanism of peripheral vasodilatation in hot temperatures to regulate the body’s temperature. Vasodilatation is described as a process where the blood vessels widen to increase the blood flow to the lower part or extremities. However, due to the high temperature, the skin loses water. As the blood flow increases, the tiny capillaries in the body leak out fluids into the space outside the cells. In normal circumstances, this fluid is cleared up by the lymph nodes, but the excess fluid cannot be cleared up efficiently. Consequently, the fluid accumulates in certain body parts, causing swelling hands and feet or swollen ankles in heat.

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Types of Edema:

There are many types of edema. Some of them are mentioned below:

  • Peripheral edema
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Cerebral edema 
  • Macular edema 
  • Pitting edema
  • Periorbital edema 
  • Lymphedema

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Edema:

  • Swelling and puffiness in both arms and legs 
  • Stretchy and shiny skin
  • Pain in the affected body part
  • Increased abdominal size
  • When the swelling is pressed, it leaves a dent or a dimple, known as pitting edema.
  • Difficulty moving the swollen part. For example, you might experience difficulty in walking if your legs are swollen

What is heat edema a symptom of?

Causes of mild cases of edema include:

  • Sitting or staying in one position for a long time
  • Eating too much salt in food.
  • Being premenstrual 
  • Being pregnant.

Certain medicines can also cause it, including:

Edema may indicate a serious underlying condition. Illnesses that can cause edema include:

  • Congestive heart failure. Having congestive heart failure can cause the lower chambers of your heart to stop pumping blood effectively. In response, blood can pool in legs, arms, ankles, and feet, causing edema. It can also cause swelling in the lower abdomen. As a result of this condition, fluid can build up in the lungs, leading to pulmonary edema. It is possible to experience shortness of breath due to pulmonary edema.
  • Liver damage: Liver damage can cause fluid to build up in the abdomen and the legs. This fluid buildup in the abdomen is called ascites.
  • Kidney disease: Kidney disease can increase the blood’s buildup of salts and fluids. Edema linked to kidney disease normally occurs in the legs, feet and around the eyes.
  • Kidney damage: Damage to the blood vessels in the kidneys can result in nephrotic syndrome. In this syndrome, decreased protein levels in the blood can lead to edema.
  • Damage to veins in the legs: This condition is chronic venous insufficiency. It harms the one-way valves in the leg; these one-way valves keep the blood flow in one direction. Damage to these valves allows blood to pool in the leg veins, which can cause swelling.
  • Deep vein thrombosis, also called DVT, is a sudden swelling in the leg with pain in the calf muscle. A blood clot may cause it in one of the legs. DVT requires medical attention right away.
  • Severe, long-term lack of protein. A long-term lack of protein in the diet over time can also lead to edema.
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People at Risk of Heat Edema

Pregnant women and older adults are at a greater risk of heat edema, especially if they have any other medical condition that affects their blood circulation.

Heat edema can also occur in people returning from colder climates to hotter climates.

Diagnosis of Heat Edema:

The diagnosis is based on the patient’s medical history, physical examination, imaging, and lab tests. The methods have been described below:

  1. Medical History: A patient’s medical history provides information about his general health. It gives an idea about the symptoms of the condition, the drug history, and the other medical problems the patient suffers from. For example, most patients living in hot areas suffer from renal or cardiac diseases. These people are more likely to develop heat edema. Similarly, it is more likely to develop as a side effect in patients who take antihypertensive drugs for a long period.
  2. Physical Examination: Swelling of the hands, feet, legs, and ankles is visible on physical examination. The doctor applies light pressure on the swelling with his finger for 15 to 20 seconds. It is called pitting oedema if a dent is created when the pressure is removed.
  3. Laboratory Tests: Laboratory tests are normally recommended to check urine output. The following laboratory tests are done to diagnose heat edema:
  • Urinalysis: In this test, the patient collects 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 urine is a sign of kidney disease.
  • Blood Tests: The healthcare provider recommends the patient undergo a blood test to check the presence of infection in the blood.
  1. Imaging Tests: Imaging tests are recommended to check whether the fluids have accumulated in the body’s other organs. The doctors usually recommend the following imaging tests:
  • Computerized Tomography (CT) Scans – CT scan provides three-dimensional (3D) images of the body’s internal organs. The patient is laid on a table that slides into a tunnel-like device where the X-rays are taken. These images help check the fluid accumulation in the other organs like the lungs, heart, liver, and abdomen.
  • Ultrasound – During the ultrasound, sound waves are sent to the body to get images of the internal organs. The patient is laid on a table, and your healthcare provider moves a transducer over the abdomen. The images are obtained on the computer screen. This test is especially done in pregnant women to check fluid accumulation due to heat edema.

What Causes Heat Edema to Flare-up?

Some common triggers of edema are mentioned below:

  • Irritants such as soaps, detergents, shampoos, washing liquids, and bubble baths cause edema to flare up. 
  • Environmental factors:  hot and humid weather can trigger swollen feet, arms, and ankles.
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How Do You Get Rid of Heat Edema?

In some cases, the edema may go away on its own. However, there are some ways to get rid of this condition promptly.

  • Avoiding salty foods and adopting a low-salt diet plan.
  • Avoiding alcohol.
  • Keeping yourself hydrated.
  • Exercising regularly and improving your blow circulation by elevating your legs or arms a few times a day.
  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle and quitting smoking.
  • Avoid going out in extremely hot weather.
  • Regularly massaging the affected area.
  • Keeping the affected area moisturized and clean.
  • Wearing support stockings to lessen the swelling.
  • Using drugs such as furosemide (Lasix), Aldactone, metolazone, Aldactazide, Demadex, and Maxzide helps the body expel excess fluid.

How to Manage Heat Edema In Summers?

By following the above-mentioned ways, you can easily manage Heat Edema. However, if these methods don’t prove useful, you can follow some other methods to help you manage these conditions efficiently. 

  • Avoid eating green leafy vegetables such as spinach and lettuce. Also, avoid smoked meat, onions and soups.
  • Avoid sitting in the same position for too long.
  • Apply ice packs to the affected area.
  • Put Epsom salt in a slightly wet towel and wrap it around the affected part. This method will provide coolness and help reduce swelling.
  • Keep a small fan with you wherever you go.
  • Avoid hot showers and baths.
  • After a shower, put cold water on your legs or arms to boost blood circulation.
  • Try to keep your room air-conditioned.
  • Try to move your body as much as you can. Take walking breaks throughout your day.
  • Stretch your body daily during the cooler parts of the day.

Effects of Edema on Different Body Parts

Hands and Arms swelling: In this condition, your fingers and arm appear larger than normal. Edema of the hand and arm can be caused by the following: 

  • A severe injury or trauma
  • A blood clot in the affected area
  • Overuse of the arm, such as during typing or using a computer
  • Tight casts after an injury
  • Excessive use of steroids or antidepressants
  • An insect bite
  • Infection

How to Manage Edema of Hands and Arms?

  • When lying down, raise the swollen area with a pillow.
  • Raise your hand above your head a few times a day.
  • Massage your arm and palm by applying a little pressure.
  • Keep your hand and arm moisturized.
  • Put your hand in a tub of cold water and immerse the hands until the swelling goes away.
  • Avoid wearing watches and bracelets because these things can reduce blood circulation. 
  • Avoid wearing tight sleeves and prefer loose clothing.

Swelling and Puffiness of Face: Face swelling is also known as Facial Edema. It happens due to allergic reactions to infections or inflammation of facial tissues. In this condition, a person’s lips, eyelids and cheeks are affected. 

Causes of Facial Edema

  • Medicines such as enalapril, irbesartan, lisinopril, ramipril, Corticosteroids, ibuprofen, naproxen and pioglitazone can cause a side effect, making your face to swell.
  • Bee sting
  • Sunburn
  • Food allergy due to fish and nuts.
  • Allergic reaction due to pollen or latex. Pollen allergy can also cause sneezing and watery eyes.
  • Acne or cellulitis on the face.
  • Tooth decay or infection can also lead to facial swelling.
Consult with our Doctors for Heat Edema Treatment

How to Manage Facial Edema?

  • Applying a hydrocortisone cream.
  • Using a cool compress on the affected part of your face.
  • Prefer sleeping on your back in this condition
  • Your doctor may recommend getting an epinephrine injection to reduce the swelling.
  •  Acetaminophen can be used to reduce pain.

Swelling of Legs and Feet: Swelling of the feet and legs occurs to the accumulation of fluid in these areas. Other causes of swelling in this area are:

  • Standing for a long time.
  • Overweight.
  • Spasm or strain in the leg.
  • An infection
  • Intake of salty food
  • Contraceptive pills
  • Pregnancy
  • Less or no exercise

How do you get rid of swollen legs from heat?

  • Soaking your feet for 20 minutes in a lukewarm bathtub.
  • Mix Epsom Salt in warm water and soak your feet in it. Also, you can put Epsom salt on a towel and wrap it around your leg.
  • Use compression socks to avoid blood clots.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Elevate your leg a few times a day.
  • Try lymphatic drainage massages. These massages increase the blood flow in the leg and break down the fluid accumulation in the area.
  • Increase intake of foods that are rich in potassium.
  • Use freezable slippers. They are gel-based and can easily help reduce inflammation and cool your feet.
  • Avoid wearing tight leggings.

Is Heat Edema Dangerous?

Swollen hands, arms, face, and feet look scary, but in most cases, they are not a sign of any potential danger. However, when paired with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cirrhosis, it can become a cause of concern. Therefore, it should not be ignored and should be taken seriously. Also, a person with Deep Vein Thrombosis might be in danger because heat edema makes this disease life-threatening. Hence, the affected person should immediately move to a cooler place and consult a healthcare provider

Prevention of Edema

Edema is a serious condition, so doing physical activity, avoiding excess sodium, living a healthy lifestyle, and following the doctor’s instructions can help prevent it.

When to consult a doctor?

You should seek help from a doctor if your swelling does not go away on its own or stays for more than one day. Moreover, if you experience swelling, chest pain, fever, and shortness of breath, you should immediately seek treatment. Without prompt treatment, this condition could lead to more dangerous diseases such as pulmonary embolism, cellulitis, and deep vein thrombosis. Your doctors online have a professional doctors team that can answer your questions, including ‘why do my hands swell when i walk in the heat’ and advice on the most appropriate treatment on fingers swell when walking in the heat

Consult with our Doctors for Heat Edema Treatment

FAQs About Heat Edema Answered By Your Doctors Online Team

Does edema increase with heat?

Yes! edema increases with heat because the fluid tends to leak out of the blood vessels at high temperatures.

Can you massage edema away?

Yes! Massage therapies can cure or even eliminate edema, depending on the location and severity. Massage therapists often use manual lymphatic drainage to drain excess bodily fluids.

Does Excessive Heat Worsen Edema?

Excessive heat can worsen edema as it may increase swelling and can lead to fluid retention.

How long does heat edema last?

Swelling normally lasts for a few days. You will experience the most swelling in the first three days, and it should start to reduce by the fourth day.

Why does my leg swell in the heat?

It is because the heat causes the blood vessels to dilate, so body fluid moves into the hands or legs by gravity which can lead to swelling.

What medicine is good for heat edema?

Medications classified as diuretics can help to remove excess fluids from the body. Treatment varies on the severity and cause of the symptoms.

Is heat edema temporary?

Heat edema is a reaction of your body to heat that leads to water retention. The condition affects feet, legs, and ankles, most commonly causing swollen feet or ankles swelling in heat. Although it is usually temporary, it can cause discomfort and require medical attention.

What happens if edema is left untreated?

If edema is not treated it can lead to complications, including:
– Pain due to stretched skin.
– Walking difficulties.
– Stiffness of the joints.
– Shortness of breath.
– Chest pain.
– Inflammation of the skin.
– Skin rashes.
-Cerebral edema.

How do you drain edema fluid from your legs?

Elevating the legs several times during the day helps improve blood circulation, ultimately preventing the accumulation of fluids. Moreover, using compression stockings reduces swelling and fluid accumulation.

Does walking help heat edema?

Remaining active and exercising moderately or walking helps to boost your circulation and prevent the fluid from building up. 

Does magnesium help with swollen feet?

Epsom salts contain magnesium sulfate, which helps manage swelling and inflammation. 

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Causes and signs of edema

How to Manage Leg Swelling in the Heat – USA Vein Clinics

Heat edema (swelling) (alberta.ca)


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