Edema is the retention of fluids in the body. Common signs include swelling, mostly in the feet, ankles and legs, and sometimes, the face and fingers may appear puffy. Edema is most common in pregnant women and the elderly, but anyone can develop this symptom. Edema accompanied by difficulty breathing and tightness in the chest may indicate a life-threatening condition.
Causes of Edema
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center website, edema has many causes. Among the most common are allergies to foods and insect bites as well as hormonal changes due to pregnancy and menstruation. Standing or sitting too long in one position can lead to fluid retention, as can exposure to heat or high altitudes. Many drugs can cause edema as well. More serious causes of edema include kidney, liver, heart and thyroid problems. Occasionally, head injuries can produce this symptom.
Edema in Infants
Animal research supports the idea that perinatal magnesium deficiency can lead to edema in infants. A 1999 study published in "Biology of the Neonate" found that when pregnant rats were given a magnesium-deficient diet, the mortality rate of their pups increased. They also had significantly higher levels of edema and hemorrhages. However, research on humans, published in the "Journal of Perinatology" in 2003, has linked the administration of magnesium sulfate to treat pre-eclampsia, a condition resulting in high blood pressure and protein in the urine, with an elevated risk of pulmonary edema in infants who are part of triplet pregnancies.
Edema and Head Injuries
Brain damage from head injuries is caused by both the trauma itself and by the swelling that follows it, part of which is due to edema. An animal study published in the July 1996 issue of the "Journal of Neurosurgery" found that rats given magnesium one hour after closed-head trauma showed reduced edema. Furthermore, this decrease in edema correlated with improved scores of neurological function. In contrast, rats who received no magnesium after sustaining a head injury showed no improvement in neurological function.
Recommendation for Treating Edema
Because edema can occasionally be the symptom of a life-threatening disorder and because the research on magnesium and edema is mixed, anyone with this condition should see a doctor to find and treat the underlying cause. The University of Maryland Medical Center website suggests that people suffering with edema may want to take a vitamin and mineral supplement containing magnesium. Do not exceed the recommended daily allowance of any nutrient without consulting a physician.