Angioedema - Symptoms 

Symptoms of angioedema 

The main sign of angioedema is swelling that develops below the surface of the skin.

Swollen skin

The swelling is caused by a collection of fluid in the deep layers of the skin.

It most often affects the hands, feet, eyes, lips, or genitals. In severe cases, the inside lining of the throat and bowel can be affected (see below).

The swelling usually appears suddenly, and is much more severe than normal hives (nettle rash). It commonly lasts one to three days. There may be a prickling sensation in the affected area before swelling is visible.

The swelling is not itchy and the skin may look a normal colour, but many people with allergic or idiopathic angioedema also develop hives, which is itchy and red.

Other symptoms

As well as visible swellings, angioedema can cause other symptoms, including:

  • a hot or painful sensation in the swollen areas
  • swelling of the inside of the throat, the windpipe and the tongue, making breathing difficult.
  • swelling of the conjunctiva (the transparent layer of cells that cover the white part of the eye), which affects vision

People with hereditary angioedema may also experience:

  • abdominal (tummy) pain caused by swelling in the stomach and bowel, which can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • swelling of the bladder or urethra (the tube that connects the bladder to the genitals), which can cause bladder problems and difficulty passing urine

When to seek medical advice

Contact your GP if you have an episode of angioedema that does not affect your breathing and you have not previously been diagnosed with the condition. You will need to have some tests to determine what type of angioedema you have.

When to seek emergency medical advice

Dial 999 to request an ambulance if you suspect that you, or someone you know, is experiencing anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction). Tell the operator that you suspect anaphylaxis.

Initial symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • a feeling of tightness in the chest that leads to hoarseness and wheezing
  • swelling of the tongue and throat

Left untreated, more advanced symptoms will quickly develop, such as:

  • high-pitched, rapid, shallow breathing as a result of the airways in the chest and throat becoming blocked
  • mental confusion
  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • pale blue skin (cyanosis) that feels cold and clammy to the touch
  • an increased pulse and heart rate

If you, or the person in your care, has previously been prescribed an adrenaline auto-injector pen, you should use it while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.


Page last reviewed: 25/09/2012

Next review due: 25/09/2014

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

unhappyhen said on 03 February 2012

I suffer with Chronic Idiopathic Angioedema - it took me 3 years to find out exactly what it was. And, I thought it was part of my Urticaria but my Urticaria is part of the Angioedema! I wonder if I should be given one of those Injection Pens....... mostly I swell up from pressure (like after holding a shopping bag over my arm instead of in my hand, or if I try to ride a bike I end up like a baboon, stirring whilst making cakes makes my hand swell). But sometimes I just wake up with a swollen face or leg or arm etc - it is quite painful and combined with the Urticaria rash is unbearable :(

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lindyloo28 said on 08 January 2012

It would be helpful to have some images for this to compare to what you are seeing on yourself or someone youa re caring for. I have had to search all over the internet looking at several sites to try to find a match for the symptoms my (almost) 2 year old son is experiencing as even the pharmacist had no clue of what it was when I went to see them. As a disabled parent I was unable to get my son to the out of hours GP (3 towns away) or walk-in centre (2 towns away) when his face, hands and feet started swelling up today. I will be taking him to our GP tomorrow but in the meantime I've spent most of the day trawling the internet to try to find an idea of what might be causing his swelling and rash.
Please add some images to make this easier!

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