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Heaviness in Legs

FootSmart Health Facts from The Podiatry Institute
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Heaviness in the legs is usually caused by a dysfunction of the vascular system, resulting in swelling or edema and added weight to the legs.

Causes:
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  • Lymphedema – The accumulation of excessive lymphatic fluid in the subcutaneous tissues. Swelling results, due to obstruction or destruction of the lymph vessels, which take fluids back to the heart from the interstitial tissues.
    • Lymphedema causes a diffuse edema noticeable due to a mound that forms on the top of the foot.
  • Varicose veins, in combination with elongated, enlarged superficial veins in the legs, can indicate poor circulation in the legs and thus lead to swelling and heaviness in the legs.
    • Varicose veins may be associated with aching, fatigued or hot legs.
    • There may be areas that look unsightly due to bulging veins.
    • Relieve varicose veins by elevating the legs or wearing graduated compression hosiery.
  • Chronic Venous Insufficiency is a condition resulting from Thrombophlebitis and Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Blood clots can occur in both superficial and deep veins. Chronic venous insufficiency results in stasis pigmentation (discoloration), stasis dermatitis (rash) and stasis ulcerations (sores) on the legs, so be on the look out for these indicators if you have poor circulation or know you're going to be immobile (like on an airplane) for extended periods.
Symptoms:
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Edema or swelling is the hallmark of these conditions. Your legs may also feel "full," tired and achy. These feelings may worsen when standing and walking, and improve with rest and elevation.

Relief and Prevention:
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  • Elevate the legs periodically during the day. You can prop up your feet and legs using things around the house or office, or simplify things with a ready-made leg elevator.
  • Sleep with your legs on cushions or pillows, or elevate the foot of the bed a few inches with blocks.
  • Check out pneumatic compression devices, such as air compression boots, which help return blood to the mid-body and reduce pooling in the legs.
  • Put on support hosiery first thing in the morning PRIOR to getting out of bed. Graduated support stockings are much better at preventing swelling than reducing swelling.
  • Think about taking diuretics (water pills), but don't overdo it.
  • Start a walking program to increase musculature in your legs to help blood flow return to the heart. Consider the electronic pedaler or any low-impact exercise equipment if hitting the outdoor pavement is not your style.
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