Swelling of the feet, ankles, and legs is called edema. It is caused by excess fluid that has collected in the tissues. Extra fluid in the body settles in the lowest part because of gravity. This is why the legs and feet are most affected.
Some of the causes for edema include:
Disease of the heart such as congestive heart failure
Standing or sitting for long periods of time
Infection of the feet or legs
Blood pooling in the veins of your legs (venous insufficiency) when the veins have less elasticity
Dilated veins in your lower leg (varicose veins)
Stockings or other clothing that is tight on your legs. This will cause blood to pool in your legs because the clothing limits blood flow.
Some medicines. These include some hormones such as birth control pills, some blood pressure medicines such as calcium channel blockers, steroids, and some antidepressants such as MAO inhibitors and tricyclics.
Menstrual periods that cause you to retain fluids
Many types of kidney disease
Liver failure or cirrhosis
Pregnancy. Some swelling is normal, but a sudden increase in leg swelling or weight gain can be a sign of a dangerous complication of pregnancy called eclampsia.
Treatment will depend on what is causing the swelling in your legs. Your healthcare provider may prescribe water pills (diuretics) to get rid of the extra fluid.
Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:
Don't wear clothing such as stockings that are tight on your legs.
Keep your legs up while lying or sitting.
If infection, injury, or recent surgery is causing the swelling, stay off your legs as much as possible until symptoms get better.
If your healthcare provider says that your leg swelling is caused by venous insufficiency or varicose veins, don't sit or stand in one place for long periods of time. Take breaks and walk about every few hours. Brisk walking is a good exercise. It helps circulate the blood that has collected in your leg. Talk with your provider about using support stockings to stop daytime leg swelling.
If your provider says that heart disease is causing your leg swelling, follow a low-salt diet to stop extra fluid from staying in your body. You may also need medicine.
Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.
Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:
Swelling in both legs or ankles that gets worse
Swelling of the abdomen
Redness, warmth, or swelling in one leg
Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher , or as directed by your healthcare provider
Yellow color to your skin or eyes
Rapid, unexplained weight gain
Having to sleep upright or use an increased number of pillow
This is the fastest and safest way to get to the emergency department. The paramedics can also start treatment on the way to the hospital, if needed.
Call 911, or seekmedical attention right away if
You have new shortness of breath or chest pain
Worsening shortness of breath or chest pain
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