Leg Swelling: Causes and Remedies

  • Posted on: Mar 31 2019
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How much should I worry if I have frequent leg swelling?

Swelling in the legs, including the feet and ankles, is a fairly common condition. While there are a range of possible causes, there is one thing that is pretty much universally true and that is the fact that you will receive a lot of advice from your family and friends. Most of it will likely correspond with family history, both actual and misremembered, as well as accepted myths. Some of the more popular include suggestions like, “you need to cut all the salt out of your diet”, “immediately get on blood pressure medicine” or “all you need is a good diuretic”. Actually, leg swelling is a more complicated issue and is your body telling you that something, which may or may not be serious, is out of balance.

There are two basic reasons that legs swell; fluid buildup and inflammation. The most common causes for each include:

Fluid buildup – more technically known as peripheral edema, this is the result of the leg area accumulating and holding more fluid than it is designed to and is often related to the kidneys or the circulatory and lymphatic systems. That said, there are many different factors that can contribute to leg swelling related to fluid buildup. Some of the more common ones are:Congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart no longer pumps with enough efficiency to adequately move blood through the body

  • Cardiomyopathy, which is a condition related to the heart muscle, and pericarditis, an inflammation of the tissue around the heart
  • Chronic kidney disease or acute kidney failure
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Deep vein thrombosis, which is a blood clot that develops in one of the veins deep in the body
  • Blood clot in the legs
  • Chronic venous insufficiency, which is a malfunction of the one-way valves in the veins that prevent blood from backing up in the legs
  • Lymph system blockage or disruption
  • Over the counter pain medicines, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or naproxen (Aleve)
  • Some prescription drugs, including some of the ones used for diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Being overweight
  • Lack of enough exercise
  • Sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Wearing tight stockings or shoes that do not fit

Inflammation – when leg swelling is caused by inflammation, it is often the body’s natural response to disease or an injury but may also be due to something else going on. Some of the most common factors that influence inflammation in the leg area are:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Infection or wound in the leg
  • Injuries, such as Achilles tendon ruptures, ACL tears, breaks in the bones of the leg or foot and ankle sprains
  • Cellulitis, potentially serious infection that usually affects the lower leg area
  • Knee bursitis
  • Gout, a form of arthritis that is caused by excess uric acid, can result in inflammation as well as sharp joint pain

What to Do About Leg Swelling

It can be a mistake to simply assume that leg swelling will go away, especially if accompanied by pain, extreme tiredness or breathing issues. Absent additional symptoms, there are  activities that may help. Some of these are:

  • Take breaks when sitting or standing for long periods of time. Get up and move around or change positions.
  • Increase daily exercise.
  • Reduce salt intake.
  • Try compression-type stockings but make sure that the compression is not too extreme.
  • Elevate legs above the level of your heart for 30 minutes at a time a couple times a day.

Most importantly, bring the issue of your legs swelling to the attention of your healthcare professional. At Cardiovascular Wellness, we are here to help you evaluate the etiology of leg swelling by taking a detailed history and performing relevant diagnostic tests to reach a diagnosis. Information on locations and office hours for Cardiovascular Wellness can be found by clicking here.

Posted in: Leg Swelling

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