Last updated date: 16-Feb-2023
Originally Written in English
Angioedema: Causes, Types & Treatments
Angioedema is a condition characterized by the sudden and severe swelling of the skin and/or mucous membranes. It can affect different parts of the body, including the face, lips, tongue, throat, and airways. The swelling is caused by the leakage of fluid from blood vessels into the surrounding tissues. Symptoms of angioedema include swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and throat, difficulty breathing, and hives.
The diagnosis is typically made based on a patient's history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. Treatment of angioedema depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. Medications such as antihistamines, corticosteroids, and epinephrine can be used to treat acute angioedema, while chronic angioedema may require ongoing treatment and lifestyle changes.
What is Angioedema?
Angioedema is a condition characterized by the sudden swelling of the skin and mucous membranes. It is often accompanied by itching and can affect the face, tongue, lips, throat, and/or airways. Angioedema can be caused by a variety of factors, including allergies, medications, and certain medical conditions. Some people may experience more severe symptoms that require treatment, while others may only have mild symptoms.
Angioedema can occur in people of all ages and both sexes. Some people may be more prone to angioedema due to certain risk factors such as having a family history of the condition, having a history of allergies, or having certain medical conditions. People who are taking certain medications, such as ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure, may also be at a higher risk for developing angioedema.
However, it is important to note that Angioedema can occur in any one, as it could be acquired or inherited.
What are the types of Angioedema?
There are several types of angioedema, which can be broadly classified as acquired and inherited.
is a type of angioedema that is caused by an underlying medical condition or exposure to certain triggers such as allergens, medications, or infections. It is different from hereditary angioedema (HAE), which is caused by a genetic defect in the regulation of bradykinins.
Acquired angioedema can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Allergic reactions: Some people may develop angioedema as a result of an allergic reaction to a specific substance, such as food, medication, or insect venom.
- Medications: Certain medications, such as ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure, can cause angioedema as a side effect.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or lymphoma, can cause angioedema.
- Idiopathic: In some cases, the cause of acquired angioedema is not known and is referred to as idiopathic angioedema.
- Inherited angioedema: This type of angioedema is caused by genetic defects that affect the body's ability to regulate the production of certain chemicals called bradykinins.
There are three types of inherited angioedema:
- Type 1 HAE: caused by a deficiency of the C1 inhibitor protein. This is the most common type of HAE, accounting for about 85% of cases.
- Type 2 HAE: caused by a dysfunction of the C1 inhibitor protein. This type accounts for about 10-15% of cases.
- Type 3 HAE: caused by a deficiency or dysfunction of another protein called Factor XII. This is a rare form of HAE and it's reported to account for less than 1% of cases.
Symptoms of HAE include recurrent episodes of swelling in various parts of the body, such as the face, extremities, gastrointestinal tract, and larynx. These episodes can be debilitating and can sometimes be life-threatening if they affect the airways. HAE is treated with medications to manage symptoms and prevent attacks and replacement therapy of C1 inhibitor protein as well as other treatments like Androgens.
Acute and Chronic angioedema
Acute angioedema refers to a sudden and short-lived episode of swelling. This type of angioedema is often caused by an allergic reaction, a side effect of certain medications, or an underlying medical condition. In most cases, acute angioedema is not life-threatening and can be treated with medications such as antihistamines, corticosteroids, and epinephrine.
Chronic angioedema, on the other hand, refers to recurrent episodes of swelling that occur over a long period of time. This type of angioedema is often caused by a genetic disorder or an underlying medical condition. Chronic angioedema may require ongoing treatment and lifestyle changes to manage the symptoms.
Drug-induced angioedema is a type of acquired angioedema that is caused by certain medications. The reaction can occur at any time during the course of treatment, and symptoms can range from mild to severe.
Some of the medications that have been known to cause drug-induced angioedema include:
- ACE inhibitors (used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure)
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Penicillin and other antibiotics
- Opioid pain medications
- Hormones such as estrogens and progestogens
- Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs)
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
Symptoms of drug-induced angioedema include:
- Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and throat
- Hives or rash
- Difficulty breathing
- Abdominal pain
If you suspect that you have drug-induced angioedema, it's important to contact your healthcare provider immediately. They may recommend stopping the medication and starting alternative treatment. In some cases, the symptoms may resolve on their own after the medication is discontinued, but in some cases it may require additional treatment.
What are the signs and symptoms of swelling (angioedema)?
The signs and symptoms of angioedema can vary depending on the type and location of the swelling. Common symptoms include:
- Swelling of the skin: This can cause the affected area to appear puffy and may feel firm or hard to the touch. The skin may also be red or itchy. Common areas of swelling include the face, lips, tongue, and hands.
- Swelling of the mucous membranes: This can cause the throat, tongue, and airways to swell, making it difficult to breathe.
- Abdominal pain: Swelling in the intestinal area can cause severe abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
- Hives: Some people with angioedema may also develop hives, which are raised, red, and itchy welts on the skin.
- Fatigue and malaise
Symptoms of Angioedema may occur together or independently and can be mild or severe, and in some cases, it can be life-threatening if it affects the airways.
How is Angioedema diagnosed?
Angioedema is typically diagnosed based on a combination of a physical examination and a patient's medical history. The diagnosis process may include:
- Physical examination: A healthcare provider will examine the affected area and look for signs of swelling, redness, and itchiness. They may also check the patient's airways and breathing.
- Medical history: The healthcare provider will ask about the patient's symptoms, when they started, and if they have a family history of angioedema. They will also ask about any medications the patient is taking and if the patient has any underlying medical conditions.
- Laboratory tests: Blood tests or skin tests may be done to help identify the cause of the angioedema. For example, a blood test can check for levels of C1 inhibitor protein in the case of hereditary angioedema.
- Imaging tests: In some cases, imaging tests such as CT or MRI scan may be done to check for any structural abnormalities that might be causing the angioedema.
- Allergy tests: Allergy testing may be done to identify any allergens that may be causing the angioedema, if an allergic reaction is suspected as the cause.
Once the diagnosis is made, the healthcare provider will determine the best course of treatment depending on the underlying cause.
How is Angioedema treated?
The treatment for angioedema depends on the underlying cause and the severity of symptoms. Some common treatment options include:
- Antihistamines: These medications can help reduce itching, redness, and swelling.
- Corticosteroids: These medications can help reduce inflammation and swelling.
- Epinephrine: This medication can help to open up airways and improve breathing if the angioedema is causing airway obstruction.
- C1-inhibitor replacement therapy: This therapy is used to treat patients with hereditary angioedema caused by C1 inhibitor deficiency.
- Avoiding triggers: If the angioedema is caused by an allergic reaction, it is important to avoid the specific allergen that is causing the reaction.
- Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove any structural abnormalities that are causing the angioedema.
- Lifestyle changes: Certain lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise can help to manage symptoms of angioedema.
It's important to note that if you suspect you have angioedema, you should seek medical help immediately, especially if the swelling affects your airway. In some cases, angioedema can be life-threatening if it affects breathing.
How can I prevent Angioedema?
Preventing angioedema can be challenging as the cause of the condition is not always clear and can depend on the type of angioedema. However, here are some general tips that may help prevent or reduce the likelihood of angioedema:
- Avoid known triggers: If you know that certain things trigger your angioedema, such as certain foods or medications, try to avoid them as much as possible.
- Take medication as prescribed: If you are taking medication to prevent angioedema, make sure to take it as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight can help to reduce the risk of angioedema.
- Manage underlying medical conditions: If you have an underlying medical condition that is associated with angioedema, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, make sure to manage it properly with the help of your healthcare provider.
- Seek medical help immediately: If you suspect you have angioedema, seek medical help immediately, especially if the swelling affects your airway.
What can I expect if I have Angioedema?
If you have angioedema, the symptoms and treatment can vary depending on the underlying cause. Here are some general things you might expect:
- Swelling: The most common symptom of angioedema is swelling, which can occur in various parts of the body such as the face, lips, tongue, throat, hands, feet or any other body part.
- Itching and redness: The affected area may also be itchy and red.
- Pain and discomfort: The swelling can cause pain and discomfort, especially if it is severe or affects the airways.
- Breathing difficulties: In some cases, angioedema can cause breathing difficulties, especially if it affects the face, tongue, or throat.
- Treatment: Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the angioedema. Medications, such as antihistamines, corticosteroids, epinephrine, C1-inhibitor replacement therapy, may be prescribed to help reduce symptoms.
- Lifestyle changes: Certain lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise can help to manage symptoms of angioedema.
- Follow-up: If you have angioedema, you will likely need to follow-up with your healthcare provider regularly to monitor the condition and adjust treatment as needed.
What are the complications of Angioedema?
Angioedema can cause various complications, depending on the severity and location of the swelling. Here are some potential complications of angioedema:
- Airway obstruction: If the swelling affects the airways, such as the face, tongue, or throat, it can cause difficulty breathing or even complete airway obstruction. This can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
- Anaphylaxis: In rare cases, angioedema can occur alongside anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can cause difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, and loss of consciousness.
- Psychological impact: Angioedema can have a psychological impact on the patient, causing anxiety and depression due to the fear of another attack, the appearance changes and the social isolation.
- Skin and soft tissue infections: Angioedema can cause skin and soft tissue infections if the affected area is scratched or broken.
- Chronic angioedema: Some people may experience angioedema frequently or even daily, which can cause chronic swelling and discomfort.
- In case of inherited angioedema, the patient may have recurrent attacks throughout their life, that can cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
What is the outcome for Angioedema?
The outcome for angioedema can vary depending on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition.
Here are some possible outcomes for angioedema:
- Acute angioedema: In most cases, acute angioedema is treated with medications such as antihistamines, corticosteroids, epinephrine, and C1-inhibitor replacement therapy. With treatment, the swelling should resolve within a few days.
- Chronic angioedema: If you have chronic angioedema, you will likely need to manage the condition with ongoing treatment, such as medications and lifestyle changes.
- Inherited angioedema: The outcome for inherited angioedema can vary depending on the type of disorder and the severity of the condition. Some people may experience frequent or even daily attacks, while others may have less frequent and less severe attacks.
- Acquired angioedema: The outcome for acquired angioedema can depend on the underlying cause. If the cause is an underlying medical condition, treating the underlying condition can lead to improvement in symptoms. If the cause is an allergic reaction, symptoms may improve with antihistamines and other medications.
It's important to work closely with your healthcare provider to develop an effective treatment plan, and to make any necessary lifestyle changes to manage symptoms of angioedema.
It's also important to note that angioedema can be a serious condition and in some cases may be life-threatening if it affects the airways, so it's important to seek medical help immediately if you suspect you have angioedema.
In conclusion, angioedema is a condition characterized by the sudden and severe swelling of the skin and/or mucous membranes. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including allergic reactions, certain medications, and underlying medical conditions. There are two main types of angioedema: inherited and acquired. Inherited angioedema is caused by a genetic disorder, whereas acquired angioedema can be caused by various factors.
Symptoms of angioedema include swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and throat, difficulty breathing, and hives. The diagnosis of angioedema is made based on a patient's history, physical examination, and laboratory tests.
Treatment of angioedema depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. Medications such as antihistamines, corticosteroids, and epinephrine can be used to treat acute angioedema, while chronic angioedema may require ongoing treatment and lifestyle changes.