Leg Swelling

Is this your symptom?

  • Swelling of the leg(s)
  • Swelling of the ankle(s)

Some Basics

  • Leg swelling is not normal. Though sometimes healthy people can have mild ankle swelling or puffiness that is not serious.
  • Common reasons healthy people might get mild ankle swelling are hot weather, pregnancy, and varicose veins.
  • People with leg swelling that is new or worse than usual should call or see their doctor.
  • Here is some care advice that should help.

Causes

There are many possible causes of leg swelling. Swelling can occur in one or both legs.

Some common causes of swelling in one leg are:

  • Blocked lymph vessels (lymphedema) from cancer, radiation treatments, or surgery.
  • Blood clot of leg (deep vein thrombosis; DVT): One calf may be swollen and tender to touch. Sometimes there is swelling in the ankle or the rest of the leg.
  • Heart Bypass surgery: During this surgery the doctor may remove and use veins in one or both legs. Afterwards there can be swelling in the leg.
  • Insect bites: Often a small area is itchy and swollen.
  • Skin infection (cellulitis): Symptoms are pain, redness, and swelling in the infected area. Sometimes there can also be a fever.

Some common causes of swelling in both legs are:

  • Blocked lymph vessels (lymphedema) from cancer, radiation treatments, or surgery
  • Heart failure
  • Hot weather
  • Kidney failure
  • Leg swelling from unknown cause (idiopathic)
  • Liver failure
  • Pregnancy
  • Some medicines
  • Varicose veins
  • Venous stasis

When to Call for Leg Swelling

Call 911 Now

  • Severe trouble breathing (struggling for each breath or can't speak)
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Severe leg swelling (whole leg is swollen)
  • Trouble breathing
  • Thigh, calf, or ankle swelling in only one leg
  • Thigh or calf pain on one side that lasts more than 1 hour
  • Thigh, calf, or ankle swelling in both legs, but one side is definitely more swollen
  • Cast on leg or ankle and now pain is worse
  • Swelling of face, arm or hand
  • Pregnant over 20 weeks and sudden weight gain (over 4 lbs or 2 kg in one week)
  • Can't walk or can barely stand (new onset)
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Moderate leg swelling (ankle swelling up to the knees) that is new or worse
  • Looks infected (redness, red streaks, or tender to touch)
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Mild swelling of both ankles that is new or worse
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Mild swelling of both ankles that is the same as usual (unchanged)
  • Mild swelling of both ankles with varicose veins
  • Mild swelling of both ankles caused by hot weather

Care Advice

Mild Ankle Swelling

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Leg swelling is not normal. Though sometimes healthy people can have mild ankle swelling or puffiness that is not serious.
    • Common reasons for healthy people to get mild ankle swelling are hot weather, pregnancy, and varicose veins.
    • People with leg swelling that is new or worse than usual should call or see their doctor.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Swelling becomes worse
    • Swelling becomes red or painful to the touch
    • Calf pain in just one leg and becomes constant
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You become worse

Heat Edema

  1. Heat Edema:
    • Many people get heat edema during the first few days of hot weather. Or they may get it for a few days after traveling to a warmer climate.
    • There is mild swelling of the feet and ankles and some puffiness of the fingers.
    • Often your body adjusts to the warmer weather in a couple of days and the swelling goes away.
  2. Heat Edema - Treatment:
    • Try to rest and elevate your legs above your heart. Do this 15 minutes several times each day.
    • Walking is good for your blood flow. It helps pump the blood out of the veins.
    • Avoid standing in one place for a long time.
  3. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Swelling becomes worse
    • Swelling becomes red or painful to the touch
    • Calf pain in just one leg and becomes constant
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You become worse

Pregnancy

  1. Pregnancy Edema:
    • Foot and ankle swelling (edema) is common in pregnancy. One reason this happens is because there are more body fluids during pregnancy. Another reason is that the pregnant uterus (womb) can push down on large veins and causing fluid to back up into legs.
    • Swelling usually gets worse during warm weather, with prolonged standing, and at the end of the day.
    • Many women note that the swelling goes away after a night of rest.
  2. Pregnancy Edema - Treatment:
    • Try to rest and elevate your legs above your heart. Do this 15 minutes several times each day. Do not lie (or sleep) flat on your back. Instead lie (or sleep) on your left side. This keeps your pregnant uterus from pushing on the inferior vena cava. This is the large vein that brings blood from your lower body back to your heart.
    • Walking is good for your blood flow. It helps pump the blood out of the veins.
    • Avoid standing in one place for a long time.
    • Drink enough liquids, 8-10 cups (2 L) of water a day. This sounds funny, but it does help.
    • Avoid socks with an elastic band at the top. Wear comfortable shoes.
    • Maternity support hose may be helpful for some pregnant women. Put them on first thing in the morning when there is less swelling.
  3. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Swelling becomes worse
    • Swelling becomes red or painful to the touch
    • Calf pain in just one leg and becomes constant
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You become worse

Varicose Veins

  1. Varicose Veins:
    • Appear as bulging winding ("worm-like") blue blood vessels in the thigh and lower leg.
    • People with varicose veins can get mild swelling in their legs after a long day of standing or walking.
    • The swelling usually gets better with rest and leg elevation.
  2. Varicose Veins - Treatment:
    • Try to rest and elevate your legs above your heart. Do this 15 minutes several times each day.
    • Walking is good for your blood flow. It helps pump the blood out of the veins.
    • Avoid standing in one place for a long time.
    • Support hose may be helpful. Put them on first thing in the morning when there is less swelling.
  3. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Swelling becomes worse
    • Swelling becomes red or painful to the touch
    • Calf pain in just one leg and becomes constant
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You become worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Last Reviewed: 10/21/2017 1:26:05 AM
Last Updated: 5/7/2017 1:36:11 PM

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