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CT scan showing generalized edema of skin
ICD-10 R60.1
ICD-9 782.3

Anasarca Microchapters


Patient Information




Differential Diagnosis

Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Mydah Sajid, MD[2]

Synonyms and keywords: Generalized edema, generalized swelling, leucophlegmatia


Edema is characterized by the collection of excess fluid in the interstitial space. Anasarca is severe edema characterized by generalized swelling throughout the body. The main underlying cause of edema is an imbalance in the hemodynamic status of the capillaries resulting in excess filtration of fluid in the intercellular space due to increased hydrostatic pressure, increased permeability of the capillaries and decreased oncotic pressure. It exceeds the absorptive capacity of lymph vessels. It can be caused by systemic diseases including chronic heart failure, liver cirrhosis, hypersensitivity reaction, and chronic renal failure.


The edema is classified in different types depending upon the severity of fluid accumulation assessed clinically:[1]

Grade Visibility of edema Pitting over tibia Level of edema
0+ No Absent Cannot assess
1+ Yes Slight Cannot assess
2+ Yes Moderate Below knee
3+ Yes Moderate Above knee
4+ Yes Severe (cannot reach tibia) Above knee


Life-threatening Causes

Life-threatening causes include conditions that may result in death or permanent disability within 24 hours if left untreated.

Common Causes

Common causes of anasarca may include the following:[2][3][4][5]

Differential Diagnosis

On the basis of onset of symptoms, ascities, and hypertension, anasarca must be differentiated from congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease, liver cirrhosis, anaphylaxis, nephrotic syndrome, and protein-calorie malnutrition.[6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17]

Diseases Clinical manifestation Para-clinical findings Gold Standard
Onset Abdominal distention due to ascities Associated symptoms Blood pressure Tachycardia Physical examination findings Lab findings Imaging
Congestive Cardiac Failure Chronic + Dyspnea,Orthopnea, Proxysmal nocturnal dyspnea ↓ /↑ + Tachypnea, jugular venous distention, elevated CVP, S3, decreased breath sounds in lower lung fields, hepatojugular reflex Elevated BNP LVEF on echocardiography
Liver cirrhosis Chronic + Nausea,vomitting, jaundice, telangiactesia, palmar erythema, hematemsis, anorectal varicies - Jaundice, pallor, caput meducae, splenomegaly, inintially hepatomegaly, clubbing, Dupuytren's contracture Elevated ALP, AST, ALT, GGT, bilirubin, hypoalbuminemia, prolonged prothrombin time USG liver will show cirrhotic, irregular nodular liver with increased echogenicity. Liver biopsy
Chronic kidney disease Chronic + Anorexia, Nausea, bleeding, fatigue, weakness + Pallor, tachypnea, pericardial friction rub, crackles on chest ascultation, uremic fetor Elevated BUN,creatinine, decrease hemoglobin, acidosis, hyperkalemia, elevated TAG USG kidney will show atrophied kidney with cortical thinning and increased echogenecity. GFR
Protein losing nephropathy Chronic + Dyspnea, headache, irratibility, bacterial or viral infections, recent H/O of URTI ↑ /N +/- Hematuria in some patients, Facial malar rash in SLE patients. Hypoalbuminemia, 24 hour urine protein excretion>3.5g, Elevated TAG and cholesterol. USG kidney may show increased echogenecity. Renal biopsy
Protein Calorie malnutrition Chronic + Muscle wasting, stunted growth, swollen face, dry skin, brittle hair ↓ /N + Hepatomegaly, Scaling, hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation of skin Hypoalbuminemia NA NA
Allergic reactions Acute - Dyspnea, difficulty breathing, raised erythematous skin rashes, abdominal cramping + Bronchial wheezing on chest ascultation Elevated tryptase and plasma histamine levels NA NA
Pregnancy Chronic - Amenorrhea, morning sickness, fatigue, breast tenderness, constipation, back pain + Fundal height of the fetus, pallor, melasma Urine pregnancy test positive, increased serum beta hcG USG Abdomen will show an intrauterine pregnancy. Blood levels of beta hcG
Medication-induced Chronic - Temporal relation between medicine intake and appearance of symptoms N/ ↓ - Specific to the medication Resolution of symptoms after discontinuing medication NA NA
Obstructive sleep apnea Chronic Due to obesity Snoring, Frequent night-time awakening, daytime drowsiness - High BMI, increase neck size and waist circumference, enlarged tongue, hypertrophy of tonsils, enlarged uvula, nasal polyps and high arched palate. Polysomnography NA Polysomnography

Abbreviations: CVP: Central venous pressure, BNP: Brain natriuretic peptide, LVEF: Left ventricular ejection fraction, ALP: Alkaline phosphatase, AST: Aspartate transferase, ALT: Alanine transferase, GGT: Gamma Glutamyl transferase, BUN: Blood urea nitrogen, N: Normal, TAG: Triglycerides, URTI: Upper respiratory tract infection, USG: Ultrasound, hcG: human chorionic gonadotropin, BMI: Body mass index, N/A: Not applicable.



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