woman with leg swelling

Peripheral Edema or Inflammation?

  • Posted on: Aug 13 2020
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Is leg swelling just something that comes and goes or should I have it checked by my doctor?

Swelling in the legs, as well as the feet and ankles, is common. Is it something to worry about? That depends upon what is causing it. The swelling could be from something as simple as spending an extended amount of time standing or sitting, without taking breaks. Unfortunately, it could also be a sign of heart disease or kidney failure.  

Everyone knows that eating foods with too much salt in them can result in puffy skin and swollen ankles the next day, but there are many other potentially serious reasons. Peripheral edema, which is fluid retention in the legs, is one of the causes of leg swelling. The other main cause, inflammation, is the result of tissue in the legs becoming irritated and swollen. 

Without consulting your physician, it will be difficult to know what is actually the cause behind your leg swelling. At the very least, it is your body letting you know that something is out of balance. The solution may be a lifestyle change, such as eating less salt and taking breaks from prolonged standing or sitting. However, if the swelling is a sign of something more serious, it will help your doctor reach that diagnosis and be able to recommend proper treatment.  

Peripheral Edema Causes

Peripheral edema, which is when more fluid accumulates in the legs than there is supposed to be, is usually related to an issue with the circulatory or lymphatic systems or with the kidneys. Some of the more common conditions that can result in fluid buildup as a symptom include:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Acute kidney failure
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Cardiomyopathy, which is a disease of the heart muscle 
  • Congestive heart failure, when the heart can no longer adequately pump blood throughout the body
  • Chronic venous insufficiency, which is blood backing up in the legs because of a malfunctioning of what are supposed to be one-way valves
  • Blood clots in the legs, in general, and deep vein thrombosis, which is a blood clot that develops in one of the deep veins in the leg
  • Blockage or disruption of the lymph system
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Over the counter pain medicines, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or naproxen (Aleve)
  • Some prescription drugs, like those prescribed for diabetes and hypertension
  • Too much salt in the diet
  • Not enough exercise
  • Prolonged periods of sitting or standing
  • Footwear, shoes and stockings, that are too tight or improperly fitted

Inflammation is a part of the immune system, the body’s natural response to disease or an injury, but it can also be triggered by other causes. Some of the most common triggers for inflammation in the legs are: 

  • Arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or gout, which is also a form of arthritis
  • Infection in the leg area
  • ACL tears, Achilles tendon ruptures, ankle sprains
  • Broken or fractured bones in the leg, ankle or foot
  • Cellulitis, which is a serious, potentially life-threatening, bacterial infection of the skin, usually on the lower leg
  • Bursitis in the knee

Due to the wide range of possible causes for leg swelling, it is important to consult your healthcare professional. 

At Cardiovascular Wellness, our mission is to provide outstanding, timely and personalized care to all of our patients. We are committed to improving your quality of life by designing a comprehensive plan of heart care, individualized to your needs.

Information on locations and office hours for Cardiovascular Wellness can be found by clicking here

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