Swollen legs, also known as edema, are common and often uncomfortable. In fact, about 1 in 1,000 people in the US have this condition.
They occur when excess fluid builds up in the tissues of the legs. This causes them to become swollen and inflamed, bruise easily, and feel painful.
While the causes of swollen legs vary widely, some reasons are more prevalent than others. These include everything from chronic conditions like poor circulation and kidney diseases to temporary conditions like pregnancy.
This article explores the top seven common causes of swollen legs. We also provide some tips on how to relieve the symptoms.
1. Poor Circulation
Poor circulation is one of the most common causes of swollen legs.
When the blood vessels in the legs are not functioning correctly, it can lead to a build-up of fluid in the legs and ankles. This can be caused by various factors, including obesity, pregnancy, and standing or sitting for long periods. Poor circulation can also result from underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and venous insufficiency.
Try to improve your overall circulation to relieve swollen legs caused by poor circulation. This can be done through:
- Regular exercise
- Massaging your legs
- Elevating your legs above heart level when resting
You can also try wearing compression clothing to help improve blood flow and reduce swelling.
2. Venous Insufficiency
Venous insufficiency is a condition in which the veins in the legs can't pump blood back to the heart effectively. This causes blood to pool in the legs, leading to swelling.
Venous insufficiency is often caused by damaged or weakened veins, resulting from genetics, aging, or other factors such as obesity or pregnancy. To relieve swollen legs caused by venous insufficiency, elevate the legs above the heart, wear compression stockings, and engage in regular physical activity to improve circulation.
People with this condition also need to maintain a healthy weight and avoid standing or sitting for long periods. The most severe cases require treatment to repair or remove damaged veins. There are also medications available that improve circulation.
You're probably familiar with the advice to drink eight glasses of water a day. It's not just for overall hydration; it may also ensure you don't get swollen ankles.
Dehydration is caused by not drinking enough water, sweating excessively, or having diarrhea or vomiting. When you're dehydrated, your body's fluid balance is off. This leads to fluid build-up in the tissues, resulting in swollen legs.
Drink plenty of fluids-particularly water-to relieve swollen legs caused by dehydration. You should also try to avoid activities that cause excessive sweating.
Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, too. These drinks are known to dehydrate the body.
4. PregnancyLeg swelling is common during pregnancy, particularly in the later stages.
This is usually due to the pressure the growing uterus puts on your leg veins. But hormonal changes and increased fluid retention may also cause swelling during pregnancy.
To relieve swollen legs during pregnancy:
- Keep your feet elevated whenever possible
- Avoid standing or sitting for long periods
- Wear comfortable, supportive shoes
You can also try massaging your legs and ankles to help improve circulation and reduce swelling.
5. Certain MedicationsCertain medications can also cause swollen legs as a side effect. Some common medications that can cause edema include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Diabetes medications
- Oral contraceptives
- Blood pressure medications
If you're taking any of these medications and are experiencing swollen legs or poor leg circulation, speak with your healthcare provider. They can help you determine whether the drug is causing the swelling or related to another condition.
In some cases, switching to a different medication may be necessary. In other cases (for example, when no other drugs are suitable), your doctor might recommend lifestyle changes or exercises.
6. Serious IllnessHeart failure is when the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. This can cause fluid to build up in the legs and lead to swelling.
Heart failure is often caused by underlying conditions such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, or a heart attack.
To relieve swollen legs caused by heart failure, you must manage the underlying condition and follow a treatment plan prescribed by your healthcare provider.
This could include:
- Taking medications to improve heart function
- Making lifestyle changes to manage risk factors
- Undergoing surgery to repair or replace damaged heart tissue
Kidney disease is when the kidneys can't effectively filter waste and excess fluid from the body. This can lead to fluid build-up in the legs and cause swelling.
Various factors, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and infections, can cause kidney disease.
Like with heart failure, consult with your doctor if you have kidney disease and are experiencing swollen legs. They will recommend helpful medications and lifestyle changes. You may also be a candidate for dialysis or even a kidney transplant.
Believe it or not, but occasionally, allergies may be the cause of swollen legs.
When the body comes into contact with an allergen, it can trigger an immune response. This can cause swelling in the legs and other areas of the body. Various factors, including food allergies, environmental allergies, and insect bites, can cause allergic reactions.
If you are not sure what is causing your allergic reaction, speak with a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment. They'll likely prescribe antihistamines.
Understand the Causes of Swollen Legs to Receive Effective Treatment
The causes of swollen legs, or edema, stem from various underlying conditions; everything from poor circulation to kidney disease to simple genetics could be the culprit.
If you have swollen legs, it's time to visit your doctor. First, they'll conduct tests to identify the underlying cause. Then, follow the treatment plan they prescribe and make appropriate lifestyle changes to get the condition under control.
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