What is Swelling? Definition and Causes of Swelling

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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  • Denise Marleau

    My mother is ninety six years old almost five days ago she started to swell, from head to toes. she’s never been sick she is still in good health , but what can cause her swelling, it not itchy, her weith lbs. was always one hundred and five, but now she look as if she is one hundred and thirty lbs. this is very serious, what do you think we should do?

  • Denise Marleau

    I left you my message, I did’nt get the answer. How can I get an answer? Now right now Please. Thank you

    • Dr. Chris

      Hello Denise

      I see you first posted your question and then 5 minutes later asked why we had not replied. Please note that this is not a medical consultation and it is just a free service offered by the website. Answers can take up to 72 hours as we get hundreds of questions in a day. So please do not expect a response in 5 minutes. We will soon offer a paid service where you will get an answer in 24 hours.

      This generalized swelling that you are talking about is anasarca. It can occur for a number of reasons like liver disease, heart failure and so on. Given your mother’s age and the severity of the swelling that you mention, you should take her to a doctor immediately. Please do not waste anymore time as it could be the end stage of a chronic condition. Hopefully it is minor though. Seek medical attention immediately.

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