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Swelling Leg
Your body needs the right amount of blood flow to keep your heart pumping, your legs moving and your brain functioning. Blood circulation, the movement of blood throughout the body, is clearly crucial to your existence, and poor leg circulation can cause many problems, such as a swelling leg.

A swelling leg, referred to medically as edema, occurs when fluid is retained in the spaces between body cells. Swelling can typically affect the feet, ankles and lower legs, but can also impact any area of the body, causing systemic symptoms.

What Causes a Swelling Leg?
A swelling leg can be caused by a serious condition of the kidney, heart, liver or blood vessels, but many other factors can contribute to the onset of a swelling leg, including:

  • Eating a poor diet high in salt and carbohydrates
  • Abusing laxatives
  • Abusing diuretics
  • Abusing drugs
  • Taking birth control or hormone replacement therapy pills
  • Pregnancy and PMS
  • Sodium retention
  • Varicose veins and history of phlebitis
  • Allergic reactions
  • Neuromuscular disorders
  • Trauma
Symptoms of a Swelling Leg
If you have a swelling leg, you will notice that the swelling worsens as the day progresses. After a period of time, however, a swelling leg will set in first thing in the morning and worsen throughout the day.

If you have a swelling leg for a long period of time, pitting may set in. You know you have pitting if – when you press on the swollen area for a few seconds – it makes an indentation in that area. Continued swelling can cause skin ulcerations.

Over time, other symptoms of a swelling leg will develop:
  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Increased urination
  • Palpitations
  • Swollen hands and/or wrists
  • Puffy eyes
  • Weight gain
Relieving and Preventing a Swelling Leg
To alleviate a swelling leg, elevate legs above the level of the heart, which puts minimal pressure on the backs of the knees and thighs and lower back. Just sitting in a reclining chair in front of the TV is a great way to elevate your legs. Many products, for use at home or at work, can also help ease a swelling leg.

Other aids for treating a swelling leg include:
  • Leg wedges to elevate the feet while sleeping.
  • Support socks and stockings, either over-the-counter or customer-made.
    • Support socks and stockings come in various gradients depending on the pressure needed, and various lengths depending on the level of the edema.
  • Proper fitting shoes and socks.

Techniques to help ease a swelling leg:
  • Increase muscle activity with walking.
  • Go out to buy new shoes in the afternoon to get the best fit.
  • Avoid standing in place for long period of time.
  • Avoid sitting with the feet dependent.
  • Limit salt intake.
  • Do not abuse diuretics, but a short-term course may be helpful.
  • Do not abuse laxatives.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid contraceptive pills and hormone replacement therapy if possible.
  • Use a compressions pump to help fluid return to the blood vessels.
If swelling leg persists or continues to worsen, please consult your physician.

Information on foot, leg and lower body health conditions provided by The Podiatry Institute, dedicated to advancing the standard of care in podiatric medicine and its effects on muscoskeletal health.
Disclaimer for Health Content Pages
FootSmart lower body health condition content pages describe general principles of healthcare that should not in any event be construed as specific instructions for individual consumers. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication or as a substitute for proper medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This healthcare content is for reference only and should not be used to determine treatment for specific medical conditions – only a healthcare provider can do that.

You should discuss the information provided with a podiatrist, physician or other licensed healthcare professional, and make sure to read any product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions and contraindications before administering or using any device, support, brace, compression hosiery, shoes intended for use by diabetics, skincare product, herb, vitamin or supplement discussed on this site.

Proper treatment of lower body health conditions depends upon a number of factors, including, but not limited to, your medical history, diet, lifestyle and medications that may be taking. Your healthcare provider can best assess and address your individual healthcare needs.
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