Leg swelling is usually due to fluid accumulation. The medical terminology for this fluid accumulation is Edema. Edema is swelling caused by retained fluid in the body’s tissues. Although edema is most frequently found in the feet, ankles, and legs, it can also occur in other areas of the body, including the face, hands, and abdomen. Additionally, it can affect the entire body.
Causes of leg swelling (Edema)
Leg swelling can be caused by a variety of factors:
- It can occur as a result of gravity, particularly when sitting or standing in one position for an extended period of time. Water is naturally drawn down into your legs and feet.
- Leg swelling can occur as a result of a weakened valve in the veins of the legs (a condition called venous insufficiency). This condition impairs the veins’ ability to return blood to the heart, resulting in varicose veins and a buildup of fluid in the legs.
- Certain disorders, such as congestive heart failure and diseases of the lungs, liver, kidneys, and thyroid, can induce or exacerbate generalized leg swelling.
- Certain medications, such as those used to treat high blood pressure or chronic pain, may produce or exacerbate leg swelling.
- Leg swelling can also be caused by an allergic reaction, severe inflammation, burns, trauma, blood clot(s), or malnutrition.
- Excessive salt in the diet can exacerbate leg swelling.
- Pregnancy can result in leg swelling due to the uterus exerting pressure on the blood vessels in the lower trunk of the body.
What are the symptoms of edema?
The following symptoms may indicate the presence of edema:
- Swelling is present in the affected area.
- The skin surrounding the enlarged area may appear stretched and glossy.
- Gently pressing your finger into the swelling spot for at least 5 seconds and then releasing it will leave a dimple in the skin.
- If your legs are swollen, you may have difficulty walking.
- If you have edema in the lungs, you may cough or have difficulty breathing.
Treatment of Leg Swelling (Edema)
Your doctor will ask you questions, perform a thorough examination, and may request tests to establish the cause of your edema.
Temporary or persistent edema is determined by the cause. Edema is treated according to the underlying problem. For instance:
- If edema is caused by lung illness such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, the patient’s smoking status should be evaluated.
- These measures would be recommended for people with chronic heart failure: treating coronary artery disease; monitoring weight, hydration, and salt intake; and avoiding excessive alcohol.
- If the culprit is a drug, discontinuing the prescription will relieve the swelling. Consult your physician before discontinuing any medication.
Along with addressing the underlying disorders, there are a few more measures you may take to prevent fluid buildup in your body:
- When you’re lying down or sitting for an extended amount of time, place a pillow between your legs. (Keep your legs up above your heart level.)
- Avoid prolonged periods of sitting or standing without moving.
- Wear compression stockings to apply pressure to your legs and prevent fluid accumulation in your legs and ankles. These stockings are available in the majority of drugstores.
- Consult your physician about reducing your salt intake.
- Adhere to your doctor’s prescription medication instructions. Your doctor may prescribe a diuretic (often referred to as a “water pill”) to assist your body in eliminating excess fluid.
- Any swelling regions should be protected from extra pressure, damage, and harsh temperatures. Skin injury over swollen areas heals more slowly and is more likely to develop infections.
Contact your physician immediately if you have discomfort, redness, or heat in a swollen area; if you have an open sore; or if you experience shortness of breath or swelling of only one limb.