What is Anasarca? (Symptoms, Causes, Treatment)

Anasarca (also called Dropsy) is a word designation to describe a health condition that prompts massive swelling throughout the body.

In most instances, this is instigated by an abnormal amount of fluid-based retention within the soft tissues.

Many medical professionals refer to this condition as “generalized edema”. It may also be identified as “massive edema”.(1)

If you are reading this, it is likely that you find yourself plagued with the pain and discomfort associated with this type of swelling.(2)

While it is true that inflammation is an attempt by the body to protect itself and initiate the healing process, experiencing it is often a highly uncomfortable experience that results in numerous complications in your day-to-day life.

I know and understand the discomfort, the pain, and the anguish that Anasarca causes.

When Anasarca develops, your body becomes bloated. Naturally, this results in rapid weight gain.


Anasarca Symptoms


As the bloating continues, you find that it becomes increasingly difficult to move.

Simple tasks, such as slipping on a shoe or bending to pull on a pair of pants quickly becomes exceptionally difficult.

You may find that your shoes, clothes, and fashion accessories no longer fit appropriately.

You may find that it is difficult to move from one location to another as the swelling has limited your mobility. Your range of motion quickly dwindles.

Regardless of the comfort measures that you take or the treatments that you indulge in, you consistently struggle.

I know and understand as I have watched as a loved one experience Anasarca, firsthand.

At the time, very little information was available about Anasarca.

While there is now more information available to sufferers and those that want to understand the issue, it is still quite limited.

The purpose and intent of this post are to not only answer the question, “What is Anasarca?” but, it is also to expound on the symptoms associated with the generalized swelling of the body, the possible causes of the condition, and the most effective treatment strategies currently available.

Regardless of whether you are suffering from Anasarca yourself, or, you want to understand the diagnosis received by a loved one, you will benefit from reading this comprehensive guide.


The Definition of Anasarca

As mentioned previously, the term “Anasarca” is used as a means of explaining massive swelling of the body.(3)

Generally speaking, Anasarca is different from other health-related issues that result in inflammation.

Those conditions typically isolate swelling/inflammation to a specific section of the body; however, the swelling/inflammation associated with Anasarca typically impacts the entire body.

When whole-body swelling is present, it often indicates that the sufferer is experiencing a serious illness or has succumbed to a major infection.

In the medical community, swelling/inflammation is categorized in one of two ways. If it is present in one area of the body, it is called “localized”.(4)

If it is occurring throughout the entire body, it is referred to as “generalized”.(4)

All bouts of generalized swelling (Anasarca) are considered to be serious issues and should be addressed by a medical professional.

In most instances, a doctor will be able to determine the underlying cause of the massive edema and may be able to initiate treatment that will resolve Anasarca.

To learn more about the pathophysiology of edema, click here.



The Symptoms

Anasarca occurs when there is an underlying issue with the body. As a result, numerous symptoms may abound.

Many of the symptoms are directly related to the swelling within the body; however, other symptoms may be a result of the underlying medical issue occurring within the body.

The following outlines a comprehensive list of the symptoms that have been experienced by those that are detrimentally impacted by Anasarca:(5,6,7,8,9,10 )

» Due to the immense swelling that occurs with Anasarca, a sufferer is likely to experience enlargement of the skin, the organs, and other components of the body

» The body becomes immensely bloated

» The extremities may become very swollen; as a result, the skin may feel very tight

» In the areas of the body that are swollen, there is often moderate to severe pain

» The sufferer will likely suffer from moderate to severe water retention

» If the sufferer is a male, the genital region may become swollen. In turn, this could result in the onset of urination difficulties, pain, and embarrassment

» The size of the abdomen may increase dramatically. This is often accompanied by an intense and uncomfortable feeling of fullness

» It is common for a sufferer to feel as if they are unable to breathe properly. In some instances, the shortness of breath is due to the bloating that occurs and the additional work that must be performed by the lungs to keep air flowing in the body. In other cases, the shortness of breath may be a result of swelling in and/or around the lungs and chest cavity

» Those that have massive edema will often find that they experience moderate to severe bouts of whole-body weakness and extreme fatigue

» The individual that has a large amount of generalized edema may find that they suffer from abdominal pain and cramping sensations. In many cases, this could lead to a lack of appetite. In other instances, this could cause vomiting and other gastrointestinal complications

» Due to the increase of fluid in the body, it is common for a person with anasarca to have fluctuations in their blood pressure. Most of the time, the blood pressure increases. This is because the heart is having to work harder to pump blood throughout the body

» The swelling that is common with anasarca may thin the blood. This commonly results in the sufferer bruising easily

» The individual that has anasarca may appear to look puffy

» If the sufferer is a female and the massive edema starts to impact the lower abdominal region or the reproductive organs, they may find that they are unable to urinate and that the blood from the menstrual cycle does not flow properly. In turn, this could result in the onset of painful cramps and massive blood clotting during the menstrual cycle

» Most individuals that have anasarca will experience some degree of nausea. In some sufferers, dizziness may also become evident as the swelling increases in the body

» Most sufferers will find that they are unable to rest at night. This is often due to the pain and discomfort of the bloating being experienced. In other instances, it could be a result of breathing problems. This often leads to nighttime insomnia and daytime fatigue

» Many Anasarca sufferers may develop anemia. Essentially, this develops when there is a red blood cell deficiency or a hemoglobin deficiency within the blood

» Most people that have anasarca will suffer from some degree of depression due to the embarrassment, pain, and discomfort that they experience



Potential Causes

In general, edema is a direct result of abnormalities within the blood vessels.

It may also be a result of the body retaining water and blockages within the vessels of the lymphatic system.

The swelling in Anasarca patients may also be caused by these issues; however, there are several other potential causes for the issue, as well.

These include, but, are not at all limited to, the following:(5,6,7,11,12,13,14,15)

» Sunburn

» Accidental Burns

» Medication Side Effects

» Abnormalities with the Thyroid

» A Deficiency of Albumin (A protein found in the liver of the body)

» Pregnancy

» Excessive Levels of Sodium in the Body

» Heart Complications, Such as Failure

» Pre-Eclampsia

» Eclampsia

» The Development of Hookworms

» Failure of the Liver

» Failure of a Kidney

» Kidney Disease

» The POEMS Syndrome (a rare blood disorder)

» High Levels of Malnutrition

» A Deficiency of Protein within the Body

» Abnormal Amounts of Protein in the Organs of the Body

» Leak Syndrome of the Capillary

» The Exogenous Administration of IV Fluids

» Certain Types of Chemotherapy Agents Used to Combat Cancer (Plant-Based)

» Diabetes

» Vein Narrowing Syndrome

» Corticosteroid Usage



MedicationAs stated previously, anasarca typically occurs as a result of an underlying condition.

In order to treat the massive edema, a medical examination will be performed.

This will include a comprehensive overview of the history of the patient, as well as physical examinations.

The purpose of the examination is to uncover what is causing the massive generalized swelling throughout the body.

When an underlying condition is discovered, the doctor will prescribe a treatment method that will work to resolve that issue, or, to address the symptoms that are causing the massive swelling and other levels of discomfort.

In addition to treating an underlying condition, there are medications, special diet measures, and home remedies that may be taken to treat and alleviate anasarca.

These include the following:(2,6,7,16,17,18,)

In terms of medication treatments, there are three types of diuretics that may be used to treat the massive generalized edema. These are loop diuretics, thiazide diuretics, and potassium-sparing diuretics. The type of diuretic issued will be dependent on the results of the medical history, medical examination, and any types of blood tests performed.

Many patients will be encouraged to take a large dosage of a detoxifier in order to eliminate swelling. One example of such a product is alfalfa because it contains a very large amount of chlorophyll.

A diet of certain protein-rich foods will often be encouraged as they aid in reducing swelling throughout the body. Examples of such foods include eggs, skinless chicken, and low-fat yogurt.

Increased fiber consumption is often encouraged in those with large amounts of body swelling.

If the excessive swelling occurs following a surgical procedure, a sufferer may be encouraged to use horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum).

For those experiencing issues with the amount of urine output that they are able to produce, natural diuretics may be encouraged. One example of such a diuretic includes juniper.

Salt is a substance that is known to result in water retention. As a result of this fact, patients that have anasarca are often encouraged to reduce or completely stop their salt intake.

If pitted edema occurs in females that have anasarca, they will be encouraged to wear special types of hose that offer high levels of support.

The intake of fluids should be limited when one suffers from anasarca. This will aid in reducing the amount of water that is being retained within the body.

Certain types of activities – such as engaging in exercise and taking part in a sauna – is often considered to be an ideal treatment because these activities increase the amount of sweat that is eliminated from the body. As sweat is eliminated, massive edema is reduced.

Food products that contain high levels of bioflavonoids are considered to be ideal water reduction ingredients for those with edema.

Certain products should be avoided when there is a high amount of swelling in the body. These include beef, alcohol, chocolate, and products that contain dairy.

To improve the blood flow within the body, ginkgo may be consumed.

When in a state of rest, the feet should be elevated. This aids in providing relief to the patient because it helps in the flow through the veins.



physical examinationAnasarca is a potentially devastating issue for sufferers. Not only does it cause an immense amount of discomfort, pain, and other symptoms, it is also quite embarrassing.

Furthermore, the onset of Anasarca typically indicates a serious illness or a serious infection within the body.

If you suffer from this condition, it is imperative that you seek medical assistance.

You will – more than likely – be prescribed one of the treatment methods that I have outlined in this comprehensive guide.

If you are the loved one of a sufferer, it is imperative that you learn as much as possible about this illness.

In doing so, you will not only be able to offer emotional support, but, you will understand the physical challenges that your loved one faces on a daily basis.

In conclusion, the following steps should be taken if you have Anasarca:

First, you should consult a doctor

During your initial visit regarding the issue, you will need to inform the doctor of your medical history and agree to any types of tests that they medical professional wishes to perform

If an underlying issue is found, you should follow the treatment regimen that your doctor outlines for you

If your doctor prescribes any type of medication treatment, you should be certain to follow that treatment

Finally, you should review the treatment section of this guide and follow the steps outlined there for optimal success in treating Anasarca