Angioedema

Angioedema is swelling underneath the skin. It's usually a reaction to a trigger, something you're allergic to, or a reaction to medication. It isn't normally serious, but can be a recurring problem. It can be life-threatening, causing difficulty breathing. If it does, dial 999 and get help (see below).

Symptoms of angioedema

The swelling most often affects the:

  • hands
  • feet
  • area around the eyes
  • lips and tongue
  • genitals

Many people also have a raised, itchy rash called urticaria (hives). In more serious cases, angioedema can also cause:

When to see your GP

See your GP if you have episodes of swelling that affect your skin or lips and you're not certain of the cause.

You may need to have some tests to find out the cause.

Dial 999 for an ambulance if you, or someone with you, has swelling and:

  • sudden or worsening breathing problems 
  • feels faint or dizzy
  • passes out or collapses 

These are signs of a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). If you, or the person who's ill, have been prescribed an adrenaline auto-injector for this, use it while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

Causes of angioedema

There are several different types of angioedema, each of which has a different cause. The different types are:

  • allergic angioedema - an allergic reaction, such as a food allergy
  • drug-induced angioedema – an allergic reaction to a medication, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors for high blood pressure
  • hereditary angioedema - a genetic condition that you inherit from your parents – this is a rare, lifelong condition that usually starts in childhood
  • idiopathic angioedema - with this type of angioedema there is no clear cause

Treatments for angioedema

The swelling will usually get better by itself in a few days. There are treatments that can help it improve faster and reduce the risk of it happening again.

For mild symptoms, speak to your pharmacist about a suitable antihistamine to manage your symptoms. You should follow up by seeing your GP.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

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