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Patient education: Angioedema (The Basics)

Patient education: Angioedema (The Basics)

What is angioedema? — This is a condition that causes puffiness in the tissue under the skin. It can involve swelling of the face, eyelids, ears, mouth, tongue, hands, feet, or genitals (picture 1 and picture 2).

Some people who get angioedema also get hives (figure 1). Hives are raised patches of skin that are very itchy (picture 3).

Different things can cause angioedema. Sometimes, it is a sign of a serious allergic reaction.

Why did I get angioedema? — Certain medicines can cause angioedema, including:

Medicines called "ACE inhibitors" – These are used to treat high blood pressure or heart disease. They include enalapril, captopril, and lisinopril. People who get angioedema because of these medicines usually don't have hives or itching.

Over-the-counter medicines for pain and fever – These include NSAID medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen (sample brand names: Motrin, Advil), and naproxen (sample brand name: Aleve).

Antibiotics – People who get angioedema because of antibiotics usually also have hives, trouble breathing, and other symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Another cause of angioedema is an allergic reaction. If you just got angioedema for the first time, it might be because you have a new allergy to something. Allergic reactions to these things can cause angioedema:

Insect stings

Foods, such as eggs, nuts, fish, or shellfish

Something you touched, such as a plant, animal saliva, or latex

Exercise

Allergic reactions usually have other symptoms in addition to angioedema. These include hives, trouble breathing, and other problems.

Angioedema can also be caused by rare diseases that sometimes run in families. An example is "hereditary angioedema." This disease causes repeated attacks of angioedema, belly pain, or swelling in the throat. These attacks last 2 to 5 days and then get better. The disease is serious because swelling in the throat can cut off the air supply. If you and other people in your family have angioedema, see a doctor. There is testing and treatment for hereditary angioedema.

Sometimes, doctors don't know the cause of angioedema.

Is there a test for angioedema? — It depends. There are tests for angioedema caused by allergies and for hereditary angioedema. But there are no tests for most of the other causes of angioedema. Your doctor or nurse can often tell if you have angioedema by learning about your symptoms and asking questions.

How is angioedema treated? — The treatment depends on the cause and how serious your symptoms are:

If you get angioedema because of a dangerous allergic reaction, you will need to be treated in a hospital right away. At the hospital, the staff will give you treatments to stop the allergic reaction and help your symptoms.

If your symptoms are mild, you might not need treatment. But you should try to figure out if anything triggered your symptoms. If so, you need to avoid that trigger.

Your doctor might recommend that you take medicines called antihistamines. These are the same medicines that people take for seasonal allergies.

Your doctor might also prescribe medicines called steroids. Steroids can help with itching and reduce swelling. But you should not take steroids for any longer than you need them, because they can cause serious side effects.

If you got angioedema because of a medicine, your doctor will switch you to a different medicine.

Can angioedema be prevented? — You can lower your chances of getting angioedema by avoiding foods, medicines, or insects that make you have an allergic reaction. If you get angioedema a lot, your doctor might recommend taking antihistamines every day.

When should I call for help? — Call for emergency help (in the US and Canada, call 9-1-1) if you suddenly have puffiness or hives plus any of the following:

Trouble breathing

Tightness in your throat

Trouble swallowing your saliva

Nausea and vomiting

Cramps or stomach pain

Passing out

These symptoms can be signs of a serious allergic reaction.

More on this topic

Patient education: Hives (The Basics)
Patient education: Anaphylaxis (The Basics)
Patient education: What you should know about antibiotics (The Basics)
Patient education: Food allergy (The Basics)
Patient education: Peanut, tree nut, and seed allergy (The Basics)
Patient education: Insect bites and stings (The Basics)
Patient education: Angioedema caused by ACE inhibitor medicines (The Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
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