It’s been a really long time since I’ve actually enjoyed summer. As a kid, sure – riding my bike to the neighborhood pool where I’d spend countless hours in the sun with my pals running, laughing, and swimming, while drinking the Tahitian Treat I got out of the soda machine. So many good memories.
As an adult, summer hasn’t always been super great for me. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve looked forward to it, mostly having to do with my health and how my body reacted to heat. Since my diagnosis of Graves’ Disease in 2002 (which after treatment turned to hypothyroidism), “summer” has been synonymous with “swelling”. Yes. For the last 15 years, I’ve opted to wear pants on even the hottest of days because I didn’t want to expose my swollen legs – also known as edema. My ankles and feet had a tendency to swell to the point of being unrecognizable! It was usually tough to walk, as It was almost like I could feel the fluids pooling around my ankles. Not to mention, there was probably a good chance I was sporting compression socks that I didn’t want anyone to see. A few years ago, I had even resorted to a diuretics prescription in an effort to help alleviate the symptoms of what I was told was “edema”. The drugs didn’t help. They never did. It got so bad at
times that my hands were also a casualty – I can remember the tight feeling I would get even just trying to make a fist or write down notes in a meeting. It was miserable. Pressing on my skin meant retaining a dimple, because that is how much fluid I was retaining. Nights at home were spent with my feet up, often with ice on them, just trying to get the swelling down. I would hole up in the comfort of the air conditioning, yearning for the cold winter months when the swelling almost disappeared.
Edema – if you aren’t familiar – is swelling caused by fluid retention…excess fluid is trapped in the body’s tissues. Accordign to Medical News Today, swelling caused by edema commonly occurs in the hands, arms, ankles, legs and feet. It is usually linked to the venous or lymphatic systems. Edema may be generalized or local. It can appear suddenly, but usually develops subtly. Many patients wait until symptoms are well advanced before seeking medical help. (Yes, we do.)
Last summer, I started working out with Solcana CrossFit. For most of the summer, I wore typical looser fitting athletic workout pants, rockin’ my knee high compression socks underneath. No one knew the difference, nor did I want them to know. I still had a bit of swelling that I was working around, I knew how to manage it. Even though I could see slight improvements, the nasty edema remained with me most of last summer. I made it through.
I’ve done plenty of research over the years to try to figure out how to get rid of edema. There is no magic pill or magic cure. From what I know, edema is most commonly caused by:
- ***Physical inactivity*** – edema is more prevalent among people who do not exercise and walk very little.
- ***Standing or sitting still for long*** – if a person stands or sits still for long periods of time, there is a much higher chance of swelling.
- Genes – researchers in Spain identified the genes that cause blindness produced by corneal edema.
- Surgery – there is usually some swelling after a surgical procedure.
- High altitudes – especially when combined with physical exertion can be a high risk factor. Acute mountain sickness can lead to high altitude pulmonary edema or high altitude cerebral edema.
- ***Heat*** – heat, when combined with physical exertion may cause edema. During high temperatures, the body is less efficient at removing fluid from tissues, especially around the ankles.
- Pregnancy – during pregnancy, a woman releases hormones that encourage the body to retain fluids. Pregnant women tend to retain more sodium and water than women who are not pregnant. When a woman is pregnant, her face will typically swell, as will her hands, lower limbs and feet.
- Menstruation and pre-menstruation – hormone levels fluctuate during the menstrual cycle. During the days before menstrual bleeding, there will be a reduction in the levels of the hormone, progesterone, which may cause fluid retention.
- Certain medications – like vasodilators (drugs that open blood vessels), calcium channel blockers, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), estrogens, several chemotherapy drugs, and some diabetes drugs, such as thiazolidinediones.
- Excessive salt intake – this is especially the case for people who are susceptible to developing edema.
- ***Malnutrition and/or bad diet*** – dietitians say low consumption of thiamine (vitamin B1), as well as insufficient vitamins B6 and B5, may contribute toward fluid retention. Low levels of albumin may also play a part – low albumin levels can also be caused by kidney disease.
I obviously ***identified*** the risk factors that fit into my lifestyle – physical inactivity, standing or sitting for too long (thank you, office life), heat, and malnutrition/bad diet. Okay. Three of these four I have control over. As much as I’d like to, I can’t control the weather, okay? Blame Jerrid with the rest of us. But the rest of them? Well. I mean, I pretty much led a sedentary lifestyle. I sat 8-10 hours a day at a desk. And don’t even get me started on the terrible diet I embraced.
Lots of things have changed for me over the last year, as you know. I’ve adopted a lifestyle of working out 4-6 times per week, resulting in 6-8 hours at Solcana CrossFit per week. I am much more conscious of the foods I choose to put in my body. I still work in an office, at a desk where I sit, but I’ve added walking spurts throughout the day to break up the sitting streaks. My office is also on the third floor and I always take the stairs to meetings on the first and second. It’s little things like this that have helped make a difference in my fight to battle edema. I know this because the weather has been pretty dang humid and warm – a perfect storm for edema. I have yet to have a flare up this year despite the most perfect of scenarios.
I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty confident I’m winning the battle against edema mostly because I have lost body mass, and have incorporated a steady and consistent lifestyle of physical activity. Research shows that moving and using the muscles in the part of your body affected by edema may help pump the excess fluid back to your heart. Running, lifting, rowing…heck, even burpees. It helps. I’m living proof.
I guess it’s just another opportunity for me to realize that when your body feels like it cannot possibly move because your joints are tight and swollen and puffy, the best thing you can possible do for yourself is to MOVE. Just move. Get the fluids pumping – even just a little. It’s going to help a lot.
Here’s to my first summer edema free since 2000. It’s been a long 15 years of being embarrassed and that’s one more feeling I’m happy to have shed – along with the water retention. (insert preach hand emoji here!)