If you’ve ever experienced puffy ankles or tight, itchy skin on your calves, you know how uncomfortable and painful swollen legs can be. Leg swelling is a common issue that affects people of all ages, genders, and lifestyles. It can be caused by something as simple as a salty meal or hormone fluctuations that cause mild discomfort to a sign of a more serious underlying health problem or vein disease that requires immediate medical attention.

In this blog, we’ll explore what leg swelling is, what causes it, common symptoms, and when to seek medical care. We’ll also provide tips on managing leg swelling at home when possible and treatment options should the cause of your swollen legs require the expertise of a vein specialist or emergency care.


Leg swelling, medically known as edema, is caused by the buildup of extra fluid in the veins. Typically, this excess fluid can be caused by a problem with the circulatory system, the lymphatic system, or the kidneys. In some cases, swollen legs are nothing to worry about, but other times leg swelling could be the sign of something more serious.

Fluid retention and inflammation are the two most common reasons people experience swollen legs, but the root cause of both can vary. Here is a list of some of the most common causes of fluid and inflammation that lead to swelling in the legs, their symptoms, ways you might be able to treat swollen legs at home, and when it’s a good idea to see a vein specialist or seek emergency care.


As mentioned, inflammation is one of the most common causes of leg swelling, and one thing that almost always causes inflammation is an injury. When you experience an injury, your body’s natural response is to trigger an inflammatory response to promote healing. This process involves the accumulation of white blood cells and fluids in the affected area, which can cause swelling and discomfort. Acute injuries, such as a broken bone or sprained ankle, can lead to localized inflammation in the affected area, resulting in swelling and pain.

In some cases, simple remedies like rest, ice, and elevation of the affected leg can help reduce inflammation and alleviate swelling. However, it’s important to seek medical attention if the swelling is persistent, severe, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms. Treatment options for leg swelling due to inflammation may include medications to reduce inflammation, physical therapy, compression stockings, or lifestyle modifications.


Certain infections, such as cellulitis, osteomyelitis, lymphangitis, or an open sore like a venous ulcer, can cause inflammation and fluid buildup in the affected area, resulting in leg swelling.

Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and subcutaneous tissues, while osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone. Lymphangitis is an infection of the lymphatic vessels that carry fluid throughout the body, and a venous ulcer is a type of open sore that occurs when there is insufficient venous blood flow in the legs.

In addition to swelling, symptoms of these infections may include redness, warmth, pain, and fever. See a doctor if you suspect you have a leg infection, as these conditions can lead to serious complications if left untreated. Treatment for infections usually involves antibiotics and other measures to reduce inflammation and manage symptoms.


There are many vascular diseases that can cause leg pain and swelling, but there are also non-vein related medical conditions that can cause swollen legs. For example, arthritis can cause systemic inflammation throughout the body, leading to swelling and pain in various parts, including the legs. And while it’s not usually a direct symptom of the condition, unmanaged diabetes can also cause leg swelling in some people.

Cancer is another medical condition that can contribute to leg swelling. Tumors or lymphatic obstructions can impede proper fluid drainage, leading to swelling in the legs. Additionally, conditions like congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and venous insufficiency can all contribute to leg swelling.

If you suspect that an underlying medical condition is causing your leg pain and swelling, it is crucial to consult with your doctor. They will assess your medical history, perform a physical examination, and conduct any necessary diagnostic tests to determine the root cause.

Treatment for leg swelling due to medical conditions typically focuses on managing the underlying condition. This may involve medications to reduce inflammation, improve heart or kidney function, or address cancerous growths. Lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes, exercise, elevation of the legs, and wearing compression stockings may also be recommended to alleviate swelling.


Inflammation in the legs can also occur due to lifestyle factors such as prolonged sitting or standing. When you remain sedentary for extended periods, blood can pool in the legs, and the lymphatic system may struggle to efficiently remove excess fluid. This can result in swelling, discomfort, and a heavy sensation in the legs.

In contrast, engaging in intense physical activity or overusing a muscle can cause fluid retention in the body, leading to leg swelling due to microscopic damage to muscle fibers that triggers inflammation and fluid buildup. This increased pressure can cause fluid to leak out of blood vessels and into the surrounding tissues.

If you find yourself sitting or standing for prolonged periods, it is recommended to take regular breaks to stretch and move your legs. Light exercises like walking or leg stretches can help improve circulation. Additionally, compression stockings can support the legs and help prevent fluid buildup.

When lifestyle modifications do not alleviate the leg swelling or if you experience persistent or severe symptoms, it is important to seek medical treatment. Your healthcare provider can evaluate your situation, identify any underlying concerns, and recommend appropriate interventions. They may suggest additional treatment options such as physical therapy, prescription medications, or further diagnostic tests to address the root cause of the leg swelling and provide effective relief.


Consuming too much salt (sodium) causes fluid retention in the body, leading to swelling and bloating. This happens because sodium attracts water and can cause an imbalance of fluids in the body, particularly in the legs, ankles, and feet. The fix for this lies in reducing your sodium intake and promoting proper fluid balance.

To prevent leg swelling caused by excessive sodium from happening in the future, it is recommended to cut back on high-sodium foods such as processed snacks, canned soups, fast food, and certain condiments. Instead, opt for fresh, whole foods that are naturally low in sodium. Additionally, drinking plenty of water can help flush out excess sodium from your system and maintain proper hydration.

In most cases, leg swelling due to consuming too much sodium does not require immediate medical attention. You can gradually reduce fluid retention and alleviate the associated swelling by making dietary adjustments and prioritizing hydration. However, if you have underlying health conditions or if the swelling persists or worsens despite sodium reduction, you should consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation.


Being overweight or obese is a common cause of swollen legs. The excess weight puts additional pressure on the veins and lymphatic system, which can lead to swelling. This can also worsen other underlying conditions that contribute to leg swelling, such as venous insufficiency or heart failure.

In some cases, leg swelling due to being overweight may also indicate a more severe condition, such as heart or kidney disease. It is important to speak to a healthcare provider if the swelling is severe, sudden, or accompanied by other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or fatigue. Treatment of the underlying condition may be necessary to prevent complications and improve overall health.

Leg swelling due to being overweight may not always require immediate medical attention. Still, you should monitor symptoms and manage the underlying cause of the swelling. Losing weight through a healthy diet and regular exercise can help reduce the pressure on the veins and lymphatic system and alleviate leg swelling. Compression stockings or elevating the legs may also help reduce swelling and improve circulation.


Certain medications can also cause leg swelling as a side effect. Medications such as corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), calcium channel blockers, and some antidepressants can all cause fluid retention and leg swelling. This occurs because these medications can affect how the body regulates fluid and electrolyte balance.

Some medications used to treat other conditions, such as heart failure or high blood pressure, may also cause leg swelling as a side effect. In these cases, the benefits of the medication usually outweigh the side effects. However, if the swelling is severe or accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider. They may recommend adjusting the dosage or trying a different medication to manage the symptoms.

If your legs are swelling and you believe it is due to medication, do not abruptly stop or change medications. Monitor the swelling and talk to our doctor. Sometimes, the medication causing the swelling may need to be adjusted or switched to a different drug.


Hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, can affect the balance of fluids in the body, particularly during certain times, like the menstrual cycle or pregnancy. During the menstrual cycle, changes in hormone levels can cause the body to retain water, leading to bloating and swelling in the legs. Similarly, during pregnancy, hormonal changes can cause fluid to build up in the legs and feet, leading to swelling and discomfort.

When hormonal fluctuations, such as those experienced during the menstrual cycle or pregnancy, contribute to leg swelling, there are steps you can take to address the issue and find relief. During the menstrual cycle, maintaining proper hydration and adopting a balanced diet can help minimize water retention and reduce swelling. Additionally, regular physical activity and exercises that promote circulation, such as walking or gentle leg movements, can be beneficial.

For pregnant individuals experiencing leg swelling, it is important to prioritize rest and elevation of the legs whenever possible. Avoiding prolonged periods of standing or sitting and taking frequent breaks to elevate the legs can help reduce fluid buildup. Wearing comfortable shoes and engaging in regular low-impact exercises recommended by a healthcare provider can also provide relief.

Leg swelling related to hormonal changes usually does not require medical intervention. However, if the swelling is severe, persists for an extended period, or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, you should see your healthcare professional for further evaluation.


As we age, our bodies undergo various changes that can lead to different health conditions, including leg swelling. Age-related changes in the blood vessels and veins can cause them to become weaker and less efficient in returning blood to the heart, leading to the accumulation of fluids in the legs. This can cause discomfort, pain, and swelling, particularly in the lower legs and ankles.

If you are getting up there in age and experience frequently swollen legs, you should monitor any symptoms of leg swelling and discuss them with your healthcare provider, particularly if they are persistent or severe. If your leg swelling is due to aging, your doctor may recommend various treatments to alleviate the swelling and improve circulation, such as compression stockings, leg elevation, exercise, or medication.


Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition characterized by the formation of a blood clot in a deep vein, typically in the leg. When a DVT occurs, it can cause leg swelling as the clot obstructs the normal flow of blood in the affected vein. Alongside fluid retention, individuals may experience discomfort, pain, swelling, tenderness, warmth, redness, and inflammation in the affected leg.

DVT is a serious condition that requires prompt medical attention. If you experience symptoms suggestive of DVT, such as leg swelling accompanied by pain, tenderness, or redness, do not delay seeking medical assistance. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are vital to prevent complications and promote a full recovery.

Treatment for DVT is crucial and should always involve medical attention. If you suspect you may have DVT or experience any symptoms suggestive of DVT, such as leg swelling accompanied by pain, tenderness, or redness, do not delay seeking medical assistance, it is essential to seek immediate medical care to prevent potentially life-threatening complications, such as a pulmonary embolism.

Your healthcare provider will conduct diagnostic tests, such as ultrasounds, to confirm the presence of a blood clot. If DVT is diagnosed, treatment typically involves using blood-thinning medications, such as anticoagulants, to prevent the clot from worsening and facilitate its gradual dissolution. Additional interventions like compression stockings or procedures to remove the clot may be necessary in some cases.


May-Thurner Syndrome is a rare condition characterized by the compression of the iliac vein in the leg by a nearby artery. This compression hinders blood flow and results in leg swelling. Alongside swelling, individuals may experience pain and discomfort in the affected leg, which can be exacerbated by prolonged periods of standing or sitting.

Given the potential risks and complications of May-Thurner Syndrome, seeking medical attention is crucial. If you suspect you may have this condition, it is essential to consult with a vein specialist. To confirm the diagnosis, they will conduct a thorough evaluation, which may involve imaging tests such as ultrasounds or venograms.

Treatment for May-Thurner Syndrome aims to relieve the compression of the iliac vein and restore proper blood flow. This typically involves angioplasty or stenting, where the compressed vein is widened or supported with a small tube-like structure. These interventions help to alleviate symptoms, reduce swelling, and improve overall leg function.


Lymphedema occurs when there is impaired drainage of lymph fluid from a specific part of the body, leading to fluid retention and swelling. Various factors can contribute to developing lymphedema, such as surgical procedures, radiation therapy, infections, or genetic predisposition. In addition to swelling, other symptoms commonly associated with lymphedema include a sensation of heaviness or tightness in the affected limb, reduced mobility, and noticeable changes in the skin’s texture or color.

If you notice persistent swelling, changes in skin texture, or any other symptoms associated with lymphedema, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for appropriate evaluation and guidance. They can evaluate your symptoms, thoroughly examine, diagnose correctly, and recommend various treatment approaches to manage lymphedema and reduce swelling.

Treatment for lymphedema typically involves a combination of techniques, including compression therapy, manual lymphatic drainage, exercises, and skin care. These interventions aim to reduce swelling, improve lymphatic flow, and enhance overall limb function. It’s important to note that lymphedema is a chronic condition, and long-term management is necessary to control symptoms and prevent complications.


Venous insufficiency is a common cause of leg swelling that is most prevalent in overweight individuals, pregnant women, and those with a family history of the condition. In venous insufficiency, blood cannot flow properly through the leg veins to the heart, resulting in the blood remaining in the leg and pooling in weak veins. When blood pools instead of circulating, the risk of developing a blood clot increases.

If left unaddressed, chronic venous insufficiency can lead to discomfort, swelling, and potentially developing leg ulcers. If you have any symptoms of venous insufficiency, you should schedule an appointment with a vein specialist so they can assess the condition of your veins and identify any potential complications.

Treatment for venous insufficiency often includes a combination of strategies. Lifestyle modifications, such as regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding prolonged sitting or standing, can help alleviate symptoms and improve circulation. Compression stockings or bandages may be recommended to promote better blood flow. In some cases, minimally invasive procedures or surgical interventions might be considered to address underlying vein abnormalities and enhance venous function.


Varicose veins are more than a cosmetic issue and are one of the most common causes of leg swelling. Varicose veins (which shouldn’t be confused with spider veins) occur when the valves in the leg veins do not function properly, leading to blood pooling and increased pressure within the veins. This increased pressure can cause fluid to leak into the surrounding tissue, resulting in leg swelling and discomfort.

There are many causes of varicose veins; sometimes, it could be as simple as being on your feet for long periods. One example of this is a patient of Dr. Bonau who was a ballroom dancer who noticed her legs swelling and needed treatment that could reduce her discomfort and enhance the cosmetic appearance of her varicose veins.

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Like this patient, you could develop varicose veins and not even know until they appear as twisted, bulging veins close to the skin’s surface. Additionally, varicose veins are often misdiagnosed as a symptom of other conditions such as heart or kidney failure or pregnancy.

If you are experiencing persistent leg swelling or discomfort, consult your healthcare provider to determine if varicose veins may be the underlying cause. While varicose veins are typically not life-threatening, they can cause significant pain and may require treatment to alleviate symptoms and prevent complications.


Leg swelling is a common condition that can be caused by various factors. Even wearing tight clothing or shoes can cause your legs to become swollen. While some cases of leg swelling may be nothing to worry about and resolve on their own, others may indicate a more serious underlying health issue. Therefore, paying attention to other symptoms if you have swollen legs is important so you know when to seek medical attention.

In addition to the sudden onset or persistent leg swelling, there are other signs to watch out for that may indicate a more serious condition. These include:

  • Redness, warmth, or tenderness in the affected leg
  • Increased pain or swelling in the affected leg
  • Numbness or tingling in the affected leg
  • Difficulty breathing or chest pain

If you experience any of these symptoms, along with leg swelling, it is crucial to seek medical attention promptly. Additionally, if you experience a sudden onset of leg swelling, especially in just one leg, along with leg pain, shortness of breath, chest pain, or other concerning symptoms, it is vital to seek urgent medical attention. These symptoms may indicate a potentially life-threatening condition, such as a blood clot, which requires immediate medical intervention to prevent further complications.

If your leg swelling is a one-time occurrence, such as the days following a high-sodium meal or after a long flight, this is probably nothing to worry about. Drink lots of water and get in some activity, and the fluid retention should go away in 1-3 days.

If your leg swelling is persistent and only mild, it may not necessarily be a cause for immediate concern. However, you should make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible. Some causes of mild leg swelling that typically require working with an expert include varicose veins, lymphedema, and edema due to pregnancy or obesity.

The bottom line; the seriousness of leg swelling depends on the condition’s underlying cause. You must place close attention to your symptoms and seek medical attention promptly if you experience a sudden onset or persistent leg swelling, along with other concerning symptoms.


When treating swollen legs, personalized approaches are key, as there isn’t a universal solution. The first step is to determine the underlying cause of the swelling, as treatment options will vary based on its specific nature and severity. While some cases of leg swelling can be managed at home, others may require medical intervention from a doctor, vein specialist, or even immediate emergency care.

If the swelling is attributed to fluid retention caused by excess salt, simple measures like increasing water intake and engaging in physical activity can aid in reducing the swelling. For those experiencing swelling due to prolonged periods of standing or sitting, taking regular breaks to rest and elevating the legs, along with using compression stockings, can provide relief.

Treating the root medical condition responsible for the swelling may be necessary in certain instances. For example, managing arthritis-related inflammation or addressing swelling associated with conditions like cancer, varicose veins, or deep vein thrombosis may require specific interventions and treatment plans. In some cases, medical procedures such as endovenous ablation, sclerotherapy, or surgical intervention may be recommended to manage both the swelling and the underlying condition more effectively.

It’s important to emphasize that if leg swelling is accompanied by additional symptoms such as pain, redness, or warmth in the affected area, it may signify a more serious condition like deep vein thrombosis. In such circumstances, immediate medical attention should be sought to ensure prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Self-diagnosing swollen legs isn’t typically a good idea. In most cases, consulting with a vein specialist is crucial for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. They can provide the necessary guidance and support to effectively address leg swelling and promote overall well-being.


If you’re experiencing non-emergency problems such as swollen, tired, or heavy legs or ankles, it may be time to seek help from an experienced doctor. The first step to determine if your swollen legs or ankles are caused by a vein problem is to schedule a consultation with one of our vein specialists.

Vein issues, such as varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis (DVT), are often the cause of swollen legs. These conditions can usually be treated with noninvasive vein surgery but require the diagnosis and expertise of a vascular surgeon.

We recommend scheduling an appointment with one of our board-certified vascular surgeons who can consult you about the condition and the overall health of your veins and venous system to help identify the root issue of what is causing the leg swelling and the next steps to treat it.

However, you should seek emergency medical care if you have chest pain, difficulty breathing, dizziness, or are coughing up blood. These symptoms may indicate a blood clot in your lungs or a serious heart condition.

If your symptoms do not require emergency care, contact The Vein Center today at 615-269-9007 to get back your healthier legs!