What is Anasarca? Understand the Causes, Symptoms & Treatments


Anasarca, pronounced (an′ă-sar′kă), is a medical term for generalized edema or general swelling in the body. It is also called as dropsy or hydrosarca. Anasarca causes the inflammation of a layer of skin called the hypodermis which is just beneath the surface of the skin.

Swelling or inflammation of the hypodermis is the most prominent sign or symptom of this condition. Anasarca is not a disease, but it is an underlying sign of the problems with your kidney, liver, and heart. It is also a sign of autoimmune illness or a reaction to the certain medications.

What is Anasarca? How Is It Different from Edema?

Anasarca is derived from the Greek phrase ‘ana’ meaning through and ‘sarx’ meaning flesh. In other words, Anasarca is swelling through flesh caused by water retention, blood vessel defects, or the blockage of the body’s lymph system.

Also Read: Dermatofibroma: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Home Remedies

Since the condition is also described as generalized edema, you may wonder what makes Anasarca and Edema similar. Both Anasarca and Edema are an accumulation of fluid causing swelling of subcutaneous tissue.

Edema is typically localized to a specific body part like a joint or an organ, while Anasarca is more diffused.

Many know or have experienced localized edema when twisting an ankle or swelling of the legs as a result of Cardiac Heart Failure (CHF). Anasarca is an advanced form of edema where the swelling spreads to multiple areas and sometimes the entire body.

The gradual progression of is the same as edema, but it typically occurs for a longer duration of time and is much more severe.

It is important to know how fluid accumulation can occur in the body. The fact is that 60% of our lean body weight is made up of water which exists in within the cells (40%) and outside of the cells (20%).

The fluid that lies outside the cells consists of the interstitial fluid (between the cells) and plasma (within the blood vessels. When the excess fluid accumulates in between the cells and the tissues, we have edema.

What are the Symptoms of Anasarca?

Common symptoms of Anasarca include:

What Causes Anasarca?

Anasarca is caused by:

  • Increased or decreased pressure in the cells and blood vessels
  • Salt retention
  • Lymph system blockage
  • Major surgery
  • Some cancers
  • Cardiac Heart Failure (CHF)
  • Constrictive Pericarditis
  • Liver and Kidney failure
  • Reduced protein intake
  • Some drugs like steroids

The condition can also develop in children. Common causes include kidney disease, protein energy malnutrition, Kwashiorkor, and premature infants can develop hypoproteinemic edema due to an immature liver.

How Is Anasarca Diagnosed?

The process of diagnosing anasarca can be long and tedious as it can be linked to a variety of different physical problems.

Initially, your physician would determine if the inflammation/swelling is localized or diffuse. Since Anasarca can be a symptom of other underlying diseases, diagnostic tests are used to determine the exact cause.

Once the underlying disease, acute or chronic is identified, the proper treatment can be used. Diagnostic tests such as:

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
  • Compete Metabolic Panel (CMP)
  • Albumin blood test
  • Liver function tests
  • Bilirubin tests
  • Electric cardiogram
  • Echocardiogram, along with CAT Scans are used to diagnose Anasarca.

How to Treat Anasarca?

Anasarca is treated in many different ways depending on the underlying disease. For example, diuretics are the first line of treatment.

Diuretics can help get rid of the excess fluid in your body. However, it should be administered very carefully because they can cause electrolyte deficiencies.

Additional treatments include:

  • Resting
  • Decreased salt intake
  • Compression stockings
  • Hemodialysis
  • Supplemental electrolytes
  • Proteins for malnourishment

Surgical intervention might include the insertion of a Peritoneovenous Shunt for certain conditions. Check with your physician.

Homeopathic treatments include:

  • Alfalfa
  • Rose Hips
  • Dandelion Leaves
  • Ginkgo
  • Hawthorne Berries
  • Juniper
  • UVA Ursi
  • Horsetails

You need to check with your doctor before taking these supplements because adverse drug reactions might occur.

It is also important to avoid:

  • Alcohol
  • Drinking excess water
  • Beef
  • Chocolate
  • Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
  • Certain heart medications like Calcium Channel Blockers, and Corticosteroids.

Anasarca is non-localized diffuse edema and is a symptom, not a disease. It is associated with many types of symptoms and is diagnosed utilizing many different diagnostic tests.

Anasarca is treatable mainly through diuretics, changes in diet, and medications. It may also affect children and premature infants but the good news is that the condition is treatable when treated by a physician.

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James Concato

James Concato is a Hospital Administrator in the Chicagoland area. He has been in healthcare for more than 25 years. He holds a Masters Degree in Healthcare Administration from Quinnipiac University and has worked in or lead many different departments. Writing on cancer treatment and cancer prevention through natural treatments is his passion. James, like many others, has had family members pass away from cancer and he knows that Cancer screening is the key to better outcomes. As an administrator of different physician practices like Pediatrics, Surgery, Anesthesia, and Oncology James brings a wealth of knowledge to his writing. James is interested in educating the public through his writing.