What is Dependent Edema? | MedStar Health

Fluid retention that can signal a serious heart problem

Edema, or swelling, occurs when excess fluid collects in your body’s tissues. Dependent edema is specific to parts of the body that that are influenced by gravity, such as your legs, feet, or arms.

Edema may be a side effect of medications for conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes. But in some cases, it can be a symptom of serious heart problem, such as:

What are the symptoms of dependent edema?

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Bloating
  • Stretched or itchy skin
  • Shallow impression or dimple that forms when skin is pressed
  • Swollen legs or arms


Diagnosing a potential heart or vascular condition is the first step to developing a treatment plan. Our specialists may recommend one or more diagnostic and imaging procedures.

Angiogram (Angiography)

An angiogram is a special X-ray taken as a special dye is injected through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter to detect blockages or aneurysms in blood vessels.

Arterial Duplex Ultrasound for Arms and Legs

Arterial duplex ultrasound uses Doppler and traditional ultrasound to assess blood flow in the arteries of your arms and legs.

Pulse Volume Recording

Pulse volume recording tests are used to evaluate blood flow through the arteries in your arms or legs.


Dependent edema likely will improve with treatment of the condition causing it. Your doctor also may recommend therapies to reduce the edema more rapidly, such as compression garments, medication, or advanced treatments. While you may not be able to exercise, you may benefit from massage and manually moving body parts with assistance from others.

Peripheral Artery Disease Treatments

Peripheral artery disease treatments may include lifestyle changes, medication, and minimally invasive and surgical procedures to manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

Ask MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net. If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.