What is Angioedema?

Angioedema is swelling that occurs just beneath the skin in the body. It can happen in many areas of the body and not just the external regions that we usually associate with ‘skin.’ For example, angioedema can also occur in the uvula, the throat, and the larynx, as well as in the intestines or the genitals.



Angioedema also often occurs on the face, arms, legs, feet and hands. This condition commonly happens in tandem with hives, a rash that can appear spontaneously on the skin and that is triggered by a histamine response in the body. The swelling in angioedema feels as if large, firm, and thick welts have formed under the skin. This swelling can also cause redness, pain at the site, or even a small amount of heat in the affected areas.



When angioedema occurs in the intestine, it can cause stomach pain. When it occurs in the throat or other areas associated with respiration, angioedema can affect a patient’s breathing, making it difficult to get enough oxygen.



In these scenarios, a patient with angioedema needs to seek out medical help immediately. In milder cases, angioedema can resolve on its own.

Types of Angioedema

There are four different types of angioedema, each associated with different causes.





Symptoms of Angioedema

The most common symptom of angioedema is swelling and puffiness in the tissue beneath the skin. This can be accompanied by redness or blanching that turns white when pressed and then returns to a red color.

Patients with angioedema that presents with hives will also experience a red, bumpy rash at the sight of the swelling. Less common symptoms include patchy welts, dizziness, and pain or upset in the stomach.

  • Redness on the skin that turns white when pressed and then returns to a red color
  • Swelling and puffiness in the tissue beneath the skin
  • Hives
  • Pain or upset in the stomach
  • Patchy welts
  • Dizziness
Man showing symptoms of Angioedema

Causes of Angioedema

What causes angioedema varies from type to type. Within each type, too, there are any number of triggers. Allergic angioedema is typically caused by allergens such as foods, pollen, insect bites, or latex.

Hereditary angioedema is caused by a genetic deficiency of a C1 inhibitor in the blood. Drug-induced angioedema can be triggered by any one of several medications, including ACE inhibitors and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen. Finally, those with idiopathic angioedema will not have a confirmed cause, but their condition may be triggered by causes as diverse as stress, exercise, or infection.

In most types of angioedema, the body creates a histamine response to a trigger, which then results in the release of excess fluid from the blood into adjacent tissues. This then triggers the swelling associated with the condition. The exception to this is hereditary angioedema, which is caused by the lack of C1 inhibitor in the body.

Diagnosing Angioedema

Diagnosing Angioedema typically involves taking a medical history of the patient, including a history of any exposure to allergens or triggers. A doctor may also examine the skin for hives. Where allergic triggers are suspected, a patient may need to undergo additional testing to confirm a diagnosis in the form of:

Treating Angioedema

Treatment of angioedema varies from patient to patient and case to case. In many situations, angioedema will resolve on its own and patients will not require treatment. When cases of angioedema appear regularly or cause mild discomfort in a patient’s life, a doctor may prescribe an antihistamine if the patient’s angioedema is associated with a histamine response in the body.

Severe cases or chronic cases of angioedema may require stronger, prescribed medications, including corticosteroids like prednisone or immunosuppressants such as cyclosporine. These medications work to suppress the body’s immune response so that triggered inflammations are not as severe.

When patients go into anaphylaxis or respiratory difficulty as a result of angioedema, immediate medical attention is required. These patients may also need to carry and self-administer injected epinephrine in case they are exposed to a trigger. Anyone experiencing swelling in the throat or airways as a result of angioedema needs to consult with a medical professional right away.

Patients with hereditary angioedema are typically treated with esterase inhibitors, plasma kallikrein inhibitors, or bradykinin antagonists. These medications work to address the C1 deficiency in the body that causes hereditary angioedema. Most of these medications are delivered by subcutaneous injection and are approved by the FDA for self-administration by the patient.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does Angioedema Last?

Is It Possible To Prevent Angioedema?