Leg Swelling – A symptom of Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Leg swelling can affect any part of the legs, including the thighs, calves, ankles and feet. Leg swelling is a consequence of 2 major processes

  • Fluid retention or buildup
  • Inflammation or Injury

The retention of fluid at the leg level is usually not painful, unless it’s due to inflammation and injury. Leg swelling is more common in older adults, although it can occur in younger individuals as well. The swelling can occur in both legs or just one, depending on the cause of its appearance.

While leg swelling on its own is not a significant health risk, it is important to know when to seek medical attention. Swelling may sometimes be a sign of a more serious underlying condition that requires treatment.

Common causes of leg swelling

The most common causes of leg swelling are lifestyle factors.

  1. Being overweight – Increased body mass decreases blood circulation, thus leading to a fluid build-up in the legs
  2. Sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time – When you are moving, the contraction of your muscles act as a pump that push the blood from your feet to your hear. Being inactive for long periods of time will lead to a stagnation of blood at the leg level. A stagnation of blood at this level will lead to water exiting from the blood vessels into the tissue, thus causing swelling

Medication associated with leg swelling:

Medical Conditions that cause Leg Swelling

  • Blood clot: When a blood clot occurs in the vein of a leg it can prevent blood flow, and thus lead to leg swelling
  • Infection or Injury: Any infection or injury that affects the leg can lead to an increased blood flow in the area and ultimately present as swelling.
  • Chronic venous insufficiency: This condition is caused by the vein’s inability to properly pump blood towards the heart. It causes blood to stagnate in the legs and is a common cause of leg swelling.
  • Pericarditis: Refers to a chronic inflammation of the membrane that covers the heart (the pericardium). This condition causes persistent and severe leg swelling and difficulties breathing.
  • Lymphedema: This condition occurs due to an obstruction of the lymphatic system. The system is composed of blood vessels and lymph nodes that help disperse fluid through the body. An obstruction of the lymphatic system causes fluid to escape from the vessels and into the surrounding tissues, predominantly in the legs and arms.
  • Preeclampsia: Is a condition that occurs during pregnancy and which causes hypertension. High blood pressure can lead to a defective circulation, and swelling in the legs, hands and face.
  • Cirrhosis: Is essentially a severe scarring of the liver, caused by infection with hepatitis B or C or from alcohol abuse. The condition is associated with hypertension and protein deficiency, both of which cause leg swelling.

When to seek medical attention

Leg swelling on its own is not usually a cause for concern. However, it can sometimes be a sign of an underlying serious medical condition.

See your doctor immediately if you:

  • Have kidney or heart or disease and are having leg swelling
  • Are pregnant and are having severe or sudden swelling
  • Have liver problems and are having swelling in your legs
  • The swollen zones are warm to the touch and red
  • Are feverish
  • Have tried treating the swelling at home, but it has not been successful
  • The swelling is worsening
  • Are experiencing pain in your legs

Go to the hospital as soon as possible if you are experiencing any of these symptoms along with leg swelling:

  • Pain, tightness or pressure in the chest
  • Coughing blood
  • Confusion
  • Feeling faint or dizziness
  • Sudden shortness of breath or trouble breathing

Learn more about leg swelling – diagnosis, treatment, and work up