Hereditary angioedema is a rare genetic disorder causing acute swelling attacks in the limbs, face, upper airways, abdomen, and genitalia. Although the attacks are mostly spontaneous, they also may be triggered by certain factors. Understanding these factors may help patients better manage their condition.

Allergens

Hereditary angioedema attacks resemble allergic reactions experienced by some people when exposed to certain substances. Exposure to common foods or environmental factors can trigger hereditary angioedema attacks. These include seafood, shellfish, nuts, eggs, milk, animal hair, insect bites, pollen, sun, extreme warm or cold weather, and latex.

Hormonal fluctuations

Changes in hormone levels also can trigger hereditary angioedema attacks. In women, major hormonal events such as menstruation, menopause, pregnancy, and breastfeeding can lead to more frequent attacks. Birth control pills, which contain artificial female hormones, trigger attacks in more than half the women who have hereditary angioedema.

Physical activities

Performing a repetitive physical activity that puts a lot of pressure on one part of the body for a long period of time may induce swelling attacks in hereditary angioedema patients. For example, a study with 92 hereditary angioedema patients identified heavy physical activity as the most common trigger of hereditary angioedema attacks.

These activities may include standing too long without moving, typing, or tightly gripping a tool such as a pen, hammer, shovel, or tennis racket.

Physical trauma, illness, and medication

Physical injuries and surgery can trigger swelling associated with hereditary angioedema. It has become common practice to administer preventive treatment to hereditary angioedema patients before a dental procedure in order to avoid swelling in their upper airways.

Aside from physical trauma, infections and illnesses as simple as the common cold or flu can initiate swelling attacks.

Certain medications also may cause hereditary angioedema attacks. Some of these are prescription medications, such as blood pressure medicine and antibiotics, as well as over-the-counter products like aspirin and ibuprofen.

Emotional stress

Emotional stress is a very important factor in hereditary angioedema. In fact, mental stress is the second most common trigger of hereditary angioedema attacks after repetitive physical activity.

Work-life imbalance, family problems, and acute events, such as loss of a loved one, can be sources of emotional stress. In addition, hereditary angioedema patients may find having unexpected disfiguring and painful attacks at random places stressful itself.

Managing hereditary angioedema by avoiding triggers

Factors that can trigger angioedema attacks are varied and some of these may be simpler to avoid. For example, patients can exclude foods that cause attacks from their diet. Acute temperature changes can be avoided by proper clothing, while getting sick with the flu may be prevented by regular influenza vaccinations. Some other triggers, such as emotional stress, can be more difficult to manage.

Each patient has a different set of factors that may trigger their attacks. Identifying and avoiding these can significantly improve disease management. The U.S. Hereditary Angioedema Association (HAEA) recommends that patients keep a journal to note the details of their attacks, including the severity of the attack, possible trigger, treatment method, and response to treatment. In this way, the potential causes of attacks and the effective treatment can be identified more readily.

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Angioedema News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Sedef Iskit is a molecular biologist with a PhD in molecular oncology. She is writing informative medical articles for doctors and patients to pursue her strong interest in science education and communication.
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Sedef Iskit is a molecular biologist with a PhD in molecular oncology. She is writing informative medical articles for doctors and patients to pursue her strong interest in science education and communication.