Swelling is the enlargement of a body part or organ beyond it normal size and usually causing a distortion of the shape and structure of the affected area.

Causes of Swelling

  • Fluid – usually lymphatic/interstitial¬† fluid, pus or blood
  • Gas - usually occurs is cavities like the gut. Often referred to as gas bloating.
  • Mass - tumor or ‘growth’ can affect any area within or on the surface of the body and is not a true swelling.

In most cases, swelling refers to fluid accumulation although the terms ‘swelling’ and ‘swollen’ may be used for enlargement due to any cause.

Definition of Swelling

  • Edema is the term for fluid accumulation. Generalized edema throughout the body (body swelling) is referred to as anasarca.
  • Swelling due to blood (‘blood swelling’) is referred to as hematocele if it accumulates within a cavity or hematoma if the blood swelling is within tissue.
  • Lymphedema is swelling due to the accumulation of lymphatic fluid.
  • An abscess is a collection of pus that may cause swelling (‘pus swelling’) and is sometimes commonly referred to as a boil. This type of swelling is usually due to an infection.

Other common terms for swelling : puffy or puffiness, growth, bloat, engorged.

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Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on March 4, 2010