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Shopping for swelling: Understanding The Link Between Urticaria and Angioedema

Although shopping is a fun activity for most, for those living with CSU it can often be a physical and emotional burden. Read on to dig deeper into the link between angioedema and CSU.

Have you ever walked into a store and found the perfect set of bracelets, only to have to purchase them in two or more sizes? Or maybe you were in love with a ring, but knew it would be simply too painful to wear it. If you answered yes to either of these and you are living with chronic spontaneous urticaria (CSU), you may be suffering from angioedema. The good news is that you’re definitely not alone!

As if being plagued by itchy hives wasn’t bad enough, around 40% of people with chronic spontaneous urticaria (CSU) are also affected by angioedema. This painful swelling in the deeper skin tissue generally occurs on the face,1 but can also affect the head, neck, hands, feet (as our story mentions above), and even the genitals.2 Not ideal, to say the least.

It appears that angioedema is caused by the same inflammatory process that triggers hives. Only instead of the mast cells in the epidermis – the outermost layer of skin – being triggered to produce histamine, it’s the ones in the deeper layers (the dermis, subcutaneous tissue, mucosa and submucosal tissues, if you must know) that go to town.3 This causes a build-up of fluid,4 blowing up distinct areas of your body like a blowfish, and causing what many describe as a burning pain.

Managing angioedema can be a challenge. Unlike hives, which usually resolve within a few hours, attacks of the painful swelling can persist for several days.2 Episodes usually resolve by themselves, but of course, it’s not just the physical effects of angioedema that can be a problem. For many people who live with the condition, there may be the added psychological issues – like feeling self-conscious or anxious about your appearance, avoiding social situations, or even experiencing depression.

If this sounds like you, then you’re definitely not alone. Many people with CSU experience depression at some point,5 so don’t be afraid to discuss these feelings with your doctor.

And rest assured, you won’t be going through this forever – a quarter of cases of CSU-related angioedema clear up within a year,6 and most within five.7 In the meantime it’s a case of not letting hives or swelling stop you from living your life. And if that means stocking up on clothes/jewerly just in case, then so be it. At the very least it’s a good excuse to go shopping!

  1. Bork (Immunol Allergy Clin North Am. 2014 Feb;34(1):23-31. Angioedema. Bork K1.
  2. Clinical practice. Chronic urticaria and angioedema. Kaplan AP. N Engl J Med. 2002 Jan 17;346(3):175-9. http://jhuasthmaallergy.jhmi.edu/basic-rotation-articles/chronic-urticaria-article.pdf
  3. Urticaria and angioedema: diagnosis and evaluation. Cooper KD. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1991 Jul;25(1 Pt 2):166-74; discussion 174-6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1869691

  4. Website “NHS Choices” – Angioedema. Last accessed: 21.01.2016. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/angioedema/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  5. The levels of depression, anxiety and quality of life in patients with chronic idiopathic urticaria. Engin B, Uguz F, Yilmaz E, Ozdemir M, Mevlitoglu I. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2008 Jan;22(1):36-40. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18181971
  6. Acute and chronic urticaria and angioedema. Soter NA. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1991 Jul;25(1 Pt 2):146-54. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1869689
  7. Website “World Allergy Organization” – Urticaria and Angioedema: Synopsis. Last accessed: 26.01.16. http://www.worldallergy.org/professional/allergic_diseases_center/urticaria/urticariasynopsis.php

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