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Angioedema is swelling caused by a build-up of fluid in deeper layers of the skin.

Angioedema is characterised by deep swelling around the eyes and lips and sometimes of the genitals, hands and feet. The swelling usually goes away within 24-72 hours.

Up to 1-in-5 people experience angioedema during their lives.

Many people with angioedema also get a raised, red and itchy rash on the skin's surface, called hives or urticaria.

Occasionally severe, prolonged tissue swelling can be disfiguring. Rarely, angioedema of the throat, tongue or lungs can block the airways, causing difficulty breathing. This may become life threatening.

What causes angioedema?

The main types of angioedema are:

  • Allergic angioedema, caused by an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis.
  • Drug-induced angioedema, where swelling is due to side-effects of a medication, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.
  • Idiopathic angioedema, where the cause is not clear.
  • Hereditary angioedema, caused by inherited ‘faulty’ genes.

Angioedema diagnosis

An initial diagnosis of angioedema will involve the doctor examining the affected area and talking about the symptoms and possible triggers.

More tests may be arranged to pinpoint the type of angioedema, including allergy tests or blood tests.

If no clear cause is found, the diagnosis may be idiopathic angioedema.

Angioedema treatment

In some cases, angioedema will get better on its own without treatment.

For allergic angioedema, and where no cause is found, antihistamines and steroid tablets may be recommended to help with swelling.

If drug side effects are found to be causing angioedema, changing to an alternative medicine may help.

Hereditary angioedema cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be eased with treatment.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on June 11, 2015

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