This is the name given to any swelling due to excess fluid in the tissues. Oedema may be localised and temporary, such as the swelling of a sprained ankle, or it may affect larger areas or the whole body.

Generalised oedema is often a symptom of serious illness, such as progressive heart failure or severe kidney malfunction, so no aromatherapist (unless he or she is also medically trained) should attempt to treat this except in collaboration with a doctor, acupuncturist or medically-trained homoeopath.

However, there are many other forms of oedema which can be very effectively treated with essential oils, especially premenstrual fluid retention, which responds very well indeed to massage in the week to ten days preceding each period. The most helpful oils are Fennel, Geranium and Rosemary.

Rosemary and Geranium, used in combination are also very effective in reducing the puffiness of legs and ankles that can occur after prolonged standing, and in the latter months of pregnancy. Some people also experience this kind of swelling on long flights. Massaging the legs with long strokes always moving from the ankles upwards will really reduce the swelling and although it is always more effective to have the massage carried out by a trained therapist, the legs are one of the areas of the body where self-massage is possible, and this can be carried out every day between visits to an aromatherapist. I like to make up the Geranium and Rosemary oils into a cream, rather than a massage oil for this use, as they are easier to handle in this form.

Both these oils have a beneficial stimulant action on the lymphatic system, which is responsible for draining excess fluid from the body tissues, and a specialised form of lymphatic massage is best in treating any form of oedema, though any kind of massage with appropriate oils will help.

Fluid accumulation is often associated with toxic wastes in the body, for example in cellulite: it is one of the body's ways of trying to render toxins less dangerous by diluting them. Detoxifying oils such as Fennel, Juniper and Lemon can be very helpful in such cases.

Sometimes, fluid retention, either in the abdominal area or affecting the whole body can be a sign of food allergy. Again, the body is trying to minimise the harmful effects of the allergen by surrounding it with a lot of water. If aromatherapy treatment does not seem to help much, and the possibility of serious illness has been ruled out, it would be well worth investigating this aspect. A nutritional counsellor or clinical ecologist will be able to advise.

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