Oedema, also known as fluid retention, is the accumulation of fluid under the skin. This can appear on the face, abdomen and extremities, especially the ankles, feet and hands, although it can also affect the entire body.
There is a constant exchange of fluids between the blood vessels and the space around them (called the interstitial space, which includes the lymphatic system), thus maintaining fluid balance in the body. The fluid that is inside the blood vessels goes out and goes into the lymphatic vessels. In a normal state, the blood vessels reabsorb the same amount of fluid, maintaining the balance.
Oedema occurs when the reabsorption process is not fully carried out and excess fluid remains in the lymphatic system.
According to Western Medicine, the causes can be excessive salt intake, heart failure, venous insufficiency, kidney disease, lymph node disorders, pregnancy, some medications, standing for a long time and sunburn.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is due to external pathogenic factors, mainly wind-humidity, inadequate diet, toxic heat (infections) and excessive work or sexual activity.
The three organs involved in edema are Lung, Spleen and Kidney. They are responsible for diffusing, transforming, transporting and excreting fluids.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are two types differentiated: one named Yang-type oedema and another Yin-type oedema. Ignore the meaning of Yang and Yin and let’s focus on the existence of 2 types: both are oedema but the origin is different in each of them.
Yang-type oedema usually appears suddenly due to an external attack on the upper part of the body, especially the face, eyes and hands. This means that the aetiology is an external factor; it is due to a blockage of the immune defence system that maintains a close relationship with the Lung, which cannot disperse the fluids accumulating under the skin. In this case we will directly treat the oedema that usually has an acute onset focusing on the lungs. For example, long-term smokers (smoking is an external factor) eventually develop Lung deficiencies which causes oedema.
Yin-type oedema usually arises when the function of the Spleen or Kidney is weak as the transport and transformation of fluids is not carried out well and they accumulate, especially in the feet and ankles. This type is recognized if by exerting pressure on the skin that presents the oedema for about 15 seconds, a pronounced hole called a fovea is created. Here, although it is necessary to treat the oedema, the main action will be to tonify the function of the organs that are deficient.
Over time, if there has been a long period of yang-type oedema, Kidney and Spleen may weaken and become Yin-type developing both types. That’s why is important to treat odema once diagnosed.
Chinese Medicine treats fluid retention in the upper body by sweating through acupuncture and herbal medicine; in the case of existing in the lower extremities, diuresis is used instead.
Acupuncture is one of the techniques of Traditional Chinese Medicine that is used to eliminate liquids, but Chinese herbal medicine is especially indicated for all these cases.
Photo by Sonuj Giri