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Angioedema - Types, Symptom, Causes, Treatment And Prevention

Last Updated: Jul 13, 2019

What is Angioedema?

Angioedema is a type of dermatological condition which causes swelling under the skin. The condition is caused in reaction to medication or an alien object which one is allergic to. Generally, the condition is not serious but it can be a recurring condition in some patients causing fatalities complications in some cases.

What are the different types of angioedema?

The types of angioedema are as follows:

1. Allergic angioedema: This happens due to allergic reactions and is one of the most common types. Certain harmless external substances such as food, medication are mistakenly identified as harmful by the body. Then certain chemicals are released by the bodies to attack these external substances. This causes a chemical reaction in the body and leads to swelling of the skin.

2. Idiopathic angioedema: If the cause is unknown then it is put into this category. This type can relapse, it is chronic, and most of the times it is accompanied along with hives.

3. Hereditary angioedema: This type occurs due to the genetic abnormalities and it causes a deficiency in the level of C1 protein and this type can be further divided into 3 subtypes:

  • HAE type 1: In this type of patient, the level of C1 inhibitor is below the normal level. This happens due to the SERPING1 gene which is decoded for the C1 inhibitor.
  • HAE type 2: Among all the cases, 15-20 per cent belongs to this type. Mutation of gene “SERPING1” occurred leading to this disease condition.
  • HAE type 3: This angioedema type is counted among the rarest type of all. The gene liable for Hageman factor (also known as coagulation factor XII) synthesis gets mutated. Mutation of this protein gene leads to the production of Hageman factor which is overactive.

What are the signs and symptoms of angioedema?

  • The red coloured rash occurs on the skin with swelling near feet, hands, eyes or lips
  • Spreading of swelling to different parts of the body
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Swollen throat
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Hoarseness
  • Itching

What are the causes of angioedema?

The exact cause hasn’t been discovered but scientists have ascertained that it can be caused due to many factors. Some commonly observed ones include:

  • Allergies and Medications: Oftentimes the condition is a result of an allergic reaction. In such reactions, the body’s immune system mistakes harmless substances for something harmful. As a result, it secretes certain chemicals within the body to counter the substance causing different reactions like sneezing, coughing and in this case swelling under the skin. Common allergic substances include foods such as nuts, eggs and milk. Also, insect stings, use of latex (as in condoms) and certain types of medications such as antibiotics and NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) lead to this condition.
  • Genetics: In very rare episodes, it may occur due to a genetic fault which you may inherit from your parents. Studies have found that the gene is responsible for the production of a substance known as C1 esterase inhibitor, the lack of which causes the immune system to misfire and lead to angioedema.
  • Other factors: In addition to the above, other factors such as severe anxiety and stress for a prolonged period, infections, extended exposure to hot and cold temperatures and strenuous physical exercises can be also responsible for the condition.


How is angioedema diagnosed?

Some of the physical tests will be performed by the doctors and you will also be asked about medical history if any related to the case. During the test, the areas which are swollen will be examined and a breathing test is also done to check if the throat is infected or not. You must also tell your allergies to the doctor or have recently been exposed to any allergic substances, thus helping the doctor to determine the specific cause.

Sample of the blood test will also be taken if there is any suspicion of hereditary angioedema. Level of certain proteins are tested in the blood and if the results are abnormal further proceedings are done.

Is angioedema serious?

Internal organs like kidney, lungs, or liver are not damaged by angioedema thus this disease is not serious. But if there is any severe throat or tongue swelling then there can be difficulty in breathing.

How is angioedema treated?

If someone has mild angioedema then there is no requirement of any treatment. But if the disease becomes moderate or has serious symptoms then medications are given to treat the severe swelling. The medicines include:

For acute allergic reaction, epinephrine is taken. Loratadine and cetirizine antihistamine are taken if there is an allergic reaction and the cause is unknown.

How long does it take angioedema to go away?

In every case of angioedema, the swelling goes away on its own within 2-3 days but if it is chronic then it depends upon the severity of the disease. Thus it is not very serious and one can live whole life with them with all the forms of conditions and treatment is very simple.

What foods can cause angioedema?

Food that causes angioedema are eggs, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and milk are the most common food items.

Which medicine can cause angioedema?

Medications which cause angioedema are penicillin, ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, and medicines taken for blood pressure.

Is angioedema fatal?

Angioedema can be fatal if there is swelling around your eyes, swelling in lips, tongue, throat, larynx.

Is angioedema curable?

This disease is not curable but there are treatments which can prevent attacks if taken regularly. But in most of the cases, angioedema does not need any treatment.

How do I prevent angioedema?

The best ways in which angioedema can be prevented is that a person should know about the allergens and then it must be avoided. If eating some specific things triggers you up then you should know about it.


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Written ByDr. Bhupindera Jaswant Singh Doctor of Medicine,MD - Consultant Physician,MDGeneral Physician
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