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Alternative NamesAngioneurotic edema; Welts
Definition Return to top
Angioedema is a swelling, similar to hives, but the swelling is beneath the skin rather than on the surface. The hives are called welts. It is also possible to have angioedema without hives.
See also: Hereditary angioedema
Causes Return to top
Angioedema may be caused by an allergic reaction. During the reaction, histamine and other chemicals are released into the bloodstream. The body releases histamine when the immune system detects a foreign substance called an allergen.
Often the cause of angioedema is never found.
The following items may cause angioedema.
Hives and angioedema may also occur after infections or with other illness (including autoimmune disorders such as lupus and leukemia and lymphoma).
A form of angioedema runs in families and has different triggers, complications, and treatments. This is called hereditary angioedema, and it is not discussed here.
Symptoms Return to top
The main symptom is the sudden development of swelling. You may also develop welts.
The welts usually occur around the eyes and lips. They may also be found on the hands, feet, and throat. They may form a line or be more spread out.
The welts are painful and may be itchy. They turn pale and swell if irritated.
Other symptoms may include:
Exams and Tests Return to top
The doctor will look at your skin and ask you if you have been exposed to any irritating substances. A physical exam might reveal abnormal sounds (stridor) when you breathe in if the throat is affected.
Rarely, the health care provider may perform allergy testing.
Treatment Return to top
Mild symptoms may not need treatment. Moderate to severe symptoms may need treatment. Breathing difficulty is an emergency condition.
Cool compresses or soaks can provide pain relief.
Medications used to treat angioedema include:
If the person has trouble breathing, seek immediate medical help.
See: Breathing difficulties - first aid
At the hospital, a tube may be placed in the throat to keep the airway open.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Angioedema that does not affect the breathing may be uncomfortable, but is usually harmless and goes away in a few days.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if:
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have:
Prevention Return to top
To prevent angioedema from coming back:
Never take medications that are not prescribed for you.
References Return to top
Kaplan AP. Angioedema. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2005;53(3):373-388.
Habif TP. Clinical Dermatology. 4th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2004:129.
Marx J. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2006:1834-1835.
Temiño VM, Peebles RS Jr. The spectrum and treatment of angioedema. Am J Med. 2008;121:282-286.Update Date: 4/28/2008 Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III., MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Stuart I. Henochowicz, MD, FACP, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Rheumatology, Georgetown University Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.