Swelling in the lower legs (peripheral oedema) occurs when excess fluid collects in between cells. Oedema can occur in the hands, face and virtually every part of the body but most typically affects the feet, ankles and lower legs. As much as a quart of blood can accumulate in the legs, leaching into the tissue.
Pregnancy and menstruation are common causes of temporary swelling. Serious medical conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure, deep vein thrombosis, osteoarthritis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, kidney disease, and liver disease may present edema as symptoms. Swelling associated with pain could indicate a broken leg, ankle or foot.
An inadequate diet, high in salt, may cause lower-leg swelling, as can abuse of laxatives, certain over-the-counter and prescription drugs, and diuretics. Simple gravity may produce swelling when you sit or stand too long. Hot weather may also cause temporary leg oedema.
Walk or jog for half an hour to an hour at least four times a week to help reduce swelling. Walking and jogging are considered weight-bearing exercises since it is your own weight that is moving against gravity. Jog in place for five minutes several times a day. Climb stairs rather than using the elevator. March in place at home or in the office: raise your knees, point your toes down, and step firmly.
Take time to cool down after exercising. Stopping suddenly can cause blood to pool in the legs. After heavy exercise, do 10 minutes of a lighter exercise to maintain circulation.
Vitamin and mineral supplements may improve lower-leg swelling if an inadequate diet is a contributing factor. Calcium supplements may help premenstrual swelling. Magnesium helps control blood pressure and works with sodium to maintain a water balance in the body.
While no vitamin is recommended specifically for reduction of oedema in the legs, a lack of B1 (thiamin) in the diet may cause fluid retention. Vitamins B5 (pantothenic acid) and B6 (pyridoxine) can help relieve oedema. Vitamin B1 can be found in grains, meat, eggs, and nuts; B5 is found in grains, fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, milk, and dairy products; and B6 is available in beans, nuts, meat, eggs, and whole grains. For a diet deficient in these vitamins, a B-complex supplement may help lower-leg oedema. Consult your doctor before adding any supplement to your diet.
Elevate the feet and legs as much as possible. Use a footstool or recliner at home; use a stool under your desk at work. Rest your legs on a pillow at bedtime. Raise your legs above the level of your heart for half an hour, at least four times a day. Try wearing support socks or compression stockings. Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time. Cut back on use of salt. Drink plenty of water throughout the day because water intake discourages the body from retaining fluid. During long airline flights, walk up and down the aisle at least once an hour. While sitting on a plane, do ankle circles and raise and lower your feet to your toes and back to your heels.
Because oedema in the lower extremities can be indicative of such serious conditions as heart disease and deep vein thrombosis, persistent swelling requires the attention of a physician.