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Angioedema is a medical emergency that causes airway obstruction and suffocation of the affected person. It is related to the allergic skin reaction called hives. Hives is a skin reaction that will cause swelling, raised and itchy welts on the skin. In case of angioedema, swelling occurs deep within the skin layers of the lips as well as the eyes.


Overview of angioedema

Angioedema is called by spontaneous swelling of the skin as well as mucous membranes. It may be caused by an allergic reaction that leads to swelling of the skin, subcutaneous tissues, mucous membranes as well as the submucosal tissues. It causes the appearance of red swellings just below the skin surface. These swellings may or may not itch, but leads to tenderness and pain.


Causes of angioedema

The causes of angioedema are often substances that lead to the release of histamine and other similar chemicals as a response to the allergic reaction. The causes mostly depend on the type of angioedema.

Some of the causes according to the type include: 

Acute allergic angioedema

When the immune system reacts violently towards a harmless substance in the body leading to an allergic reaction, it leads to allergic angioedema.

Some of the triggering allergens include: 

  •   Nuts, shellfish, milk or egg allergy
  •   Insect bite allergy
  •   Medication allergy
  •   Allergy to natural rubber or latex allergy 


Non-allergic drug reaction

When a medication leads to angioedema, it is called as drug-induced angioedema or non-allergic drug reaction. In many cases, people develop the reaction many years after they start taking the medication.

Some of the drugs that lead to angioedema include: 

  •   Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  •   Bupropion
  •   Vaccines
  •   Statins
  •   Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. 
Hereditary Angioedema

Genetic mutation prevents the body from making C1-INH protein. Without this protein, the immune system can attack the body for no reason. This such a case it leads to an angioedema attack. 

Idiopathic angioedema

When no identifiable cause can be pointed out, it is called as idiopathic angioedema. There can be different triggers to the reaction that includes caffeine, infection, stress, alcohol, even wearing tight clothes.


Symptoms of angioedema

Symptoms of angioedema include: 

  •   Swelling around the eyes and mouth
  •   In severe cases, other areas of the body like throat, tongue, hands, feet and even the genitals may swell up
  •   No appearance of hives, other rashes on skin
  •   Tender, painful swelling
  •   Swelling may burn, but may or may not cause itching
  •   Gastrointestinal cramps and pain occurs if the intestinal tract swells up
  •   The affected area feels warm to touch
  •   Breathing problems, if the respiratory organs are affected


Diagnosis of angioedema

Diagnosis is based on blood tests that includes complete blood count, renal function, etc. Other tests includes scratch test, intracutaneous test to check if you have an allergic reaction. In most cases, the doctor may determine angioedema by observing the physical symptoms. 

Treatment of angioedema

Treatment is usually based on the type of angioedema.

It is important to identify the triggers that lead to angioedema attack. One should maintain a diary that contains all the information of the foods or drugs that could have lead to an attack.

Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: February 11, 2013

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