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What is Angioneurotic Edema?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Angioneurotic edema is more commonly named angioedema, and to confuse matters, this refers to two different illnesses that have similar symptoms. Standard angioneurotic edema is often related to urticaria/hives, and is often associated with an allergic reaction, though cause isn’t always known. Hereditary angioedema is most frequently inherited, though it can also result from spontaneous defects (during fetal development) of certain genes, and has to do with dysfunction of a protein present in the body called C1 inhibitor. Both types of this condition may result in swelling of the face, lips, throat, and genitals, and the hereditary form can further cause extreme swelling in the abdomen, hands and feet; it should also be stated that either form can be a medically serious condition that might require emergency medical attention.

With the exception of hereditary, common types of triggers that might cause angioneurotic edema include exposure to allergens, chemicals, medications, insect bites, or blood transfusions. Sometimes stress is identified as a causal factor, hence the term “neurotic.” The swelling that occurs can easily become very dangerous when it impacts the throat since this my inhibit breathing. In fact angioedema can be a symptom associated with development of severe allergy or anaphylactic shock, and swelling of throat, lips and tongue must be taken very seriously.

Typical treatments given for this condition could include antihistamines, but those who have frequent swelling may also need to carry injectable epinephrine. These treatments only work for the non-hereditary form of angioneurotic edema. Moreover, anytime swelling is severe, people are advised to get medical help immediately, and not try to treat the condition on their own.

Hereditary angioneurotic edema has some different symptoms. Before swelling in the face, mucus membranes and in other areas occurs, a person might have a flat rash for several days. The areas of the body that are swollen might differ with each person. Great discomfort can occur when the abdomen swells, as this may result in pain, diarrhea, and vomiting or nausea. Swelling of the throat and larynx is very serious too, since it can impede breathing.

There aren't always triggers for the hereditary form of this disease. Sometimes people note it occurs in association with certain times in the menstrual cycle, or right after dental work. Each individual may note different triggers but the condition can emerge without any warning, and may do so up to once in a month or more in some people. Treatment can’t cure the disease or prevent attacks and mostly consists of relieving symptoms during attacks. Several medications may help, including those that might address pain or nausea. Before dental procedures, people may take Danazol®, which is a steroid that may prevent body reaction. A few people require constant treatment due to attack frequency, and medications recommended for this are variable.

These two conditions can sometimes create life-threatening situations. Should symptoms like these be present for the first time, they need immediate care. It’s impossible to tell, especially if angioneurotic edema has never occurred before whether a case will be mild or very severe. After working with a doctor and getting correct diagnosis, patients may be better able to tell with future attacks the degree of treatment they need. It should be noted that the non-hereditary form might never recur, though some people do have recurrence of it, especially if they’re prone to severe allergies. Hereditary forms are likely to occur again, but frequency of disease expression is highly individualized.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon136879 — On Dec 24, 2010

I have suffered also with angioedema, but it has drastically decreased after reaching menopause at 50. Now my daughter has the same thing, huge swelling in lips for no known reason. Could this be hereditary then, I wonder? I would seem to get these swellings in my throat when I was otherwise ill and had to go to the hospital once.

By anon115960 — On Oct 05, 2010

I suffered from angioedema from early childhood until mid 50's and since then it has not re-occurred. Diagnosis was always varied, allergic reactions to tomatoes, house dust, common cold were some that were diagnosed. Carrying anti-histamine usually solved problem (swellings did occur in throat, tongue, lips and genitals (once only).

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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