Why are my legs swollen?
What is edema?
Edema is the medical term for swelling. Swelling is puffiness of the skin, causing it to appear stretched and shiny. This is often worse in the areas of the body that are closest to the ground (dependent) because of gravity. Therefore, edema is generally the worst in the lower legs after exercising, walking, standing, sitting in a chair for a period of time, or at the end of the day. Pushing on the swollen area for a few seconds will leave a temporary dimple or dent in the skin.
Swelling is caused by a collection of fluid in the spaces that surround the body’s tissues and organs. Swelling or edema can occur nearly anywhere in the body. When swelling occurs in the lower legs or hands it is called peripheral edema. Peripheral edema can be uncomfortable and can be a sign of a more serious condition.
What conditions are associated with edema?
Some conditions that cause leg swelling include:
Chronic venous disease – A common cause of edema in the lower legs is chronic venous disease. Not enough blood is pumped back up to the heart because the valves in the veins are damaged. This can lead to edema, thinning of the skin, and, in some cases, development of skin sores (ulcers).
Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT); Blood Clot – Edema can also develop as a result of a blood clot in the deep veins of the lower legs. This kind of swelling often involves one leg and swelling around the foot and ankle.
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) – Congestive heart failure is due to a weak heart that doesn’t pump efficiently. Heart failure can cause swelling in the legs and abdomen, and fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), causing shortness of breath.
Kidney Failure – Kidney disease can cause swelling in the lower legs and around the eyes.
Lymphedema – Obstruction of the flow of lymphatics can cause swelling of a limb or limbs and skin thickening. This may happen after surgical removal of lymph nodes for the treatment of cancer. Leg swelling from lymphedema may occur as an inherited condition, infection, trauma, or obesity.
Cirrhosis — Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver from various causes, which can obstruct blood flow and cause swelling of the legs and abdomen.
Travel — Sitting for long periods of time can cause swelling in the lower legs. This is common and is usually temporary and not worrisome. However, if the swelling is associated with a blood clot, immediate medical attention is necessary.
Hormonal Changes – Women who are pregnant can retain fluid in the hands, feet, and face, especially near the end of their pregnancy. Edema may also occur in women once per month related to the menstrual cycle. These types of edema are common and resolve on their own.
Medications — Edema can be a side effect of a variety of medications, including some oral diabetes medications, high blood pressure medications, non-prescription pain relievers (such as ibuprofen), and estrogens.
How do I get diagnosed and treated?
If you develop new swelling in one or both of your legs, hands, in your abdomen, or around your eyes, you should call your healthcare provider to determine if you need to be evaluated. NVP has physicians highly specialized in diagnosing the cause of your leg swelling. If an intervention is needed, NVP physicians can treat most conditions in our outpatient facility.
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