Angioedema (Swelling of Body Parts)

Angioedema is the term for abnormal swelling of a particular area of the body due to fluid leaking from blood vessels just under the skin. Angioedema is most commonly seen with allergic reactions, but it is also seen with certain infections and illnesses.

Allergic angioedema may happen after bee stings, foods, medications, and “regular” causes of allergies such as pollens or animal dander. Angioedema can also occur repeatedly over a long period of time as part of a condition called “chronic urticaria”.

In addition, C-1 esterase inhibitor deficiency is a rare disorder of the clotting system that can lead to recurring swelling of both internal and external body parts. Most cases of C-1 esterase inhibitor deficiency are inherited and termed Hereditary Angioedema (HAE).


Angioedema due to allergic reactions is often seen in combination with hives. The affected area is often more painful or uncomfortable than itchy. Swelling can last hours or even days. The eyes, lips, tongue, hands, and feet are most commonly involved. Patients with C-1 esterase inhibitor deficiency can experience internal swelling and intense pain.


It is important to identify the cause of angioedema if possible, and the first step is a careful interview and physical exam with an experienced medical professional. It is difficult to find a specific reason for chronic episodes of swelling, but episodes of angioedema due to bee stings, foods, medications, or allergens can be investigated with skin testing. Other laboratory tests can help point to any sources of inflammation or infection.


Simple or mild cases of angioedema can be treated with rest, ice, and antihistamines. More severe or persistent cases can be treated with high doses of antihistamines, ranitidine (or similar drugs), and corticosteroids. Patients with C-1 esterase inhibitor deficiency can now be treated with several new medications that either replace the missing enzyme or block the reaction leading to episodes of angioedema.

How We Can Help

Allergy Partner caregivers are experts in evaluating the possible causes of angioedema. The allergists with Allergy Partners are also trained to provide treatment options that can include avoidance and medications. The evaluation will consist of a careful interview and physical examination, followed by any necessary tests. The tests may include skin testing, which can be done during the initial visit if the patient is not taking antihistamines, as well other laboratory tests to assess for other possible causes of angioedema.

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