Reasons for Leg Swelling

Written by andrea helaine
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Leg swelling, often referred to as peripheral oedema, is the abnormal build-up of fluid in the ankles, feet and legs. Leg swelling is a common problem in adults and is especially prevalent in the senior population. It can be painless and usually affects the lower portion of the body due to gravity. Ankles, feet, the thigh and lower leg are the extremities that are most often affected, and there are a variety of reasons that leg swelling occurs.


Cellulitis is a common skin infection that involves the tissues beneath the skin. The leg can swell, and become red and feverish. This is often caused by a cut or injury to the leg, where bacteria enter the skin. In some cases, the underlying tissue can become infected and die. Cellulitis often occurs because of bacteria or fungi, but also occurs in diabetics or someone who has a compromised immune system.

Blood Clots

A blood clot or blockage in the leg can cause inflammation in the leg as the blood flow is blocked. The clot causes swelling, warmth and pain in a leg. Blood clots can cause an onset of pain; leg pain, especially when bending the foot; and leg cramps. The affected leg is often warm to the touch. It is important to pay attention to the pigmentation of the skin to determine if there is blue or a white skin discolouration.

Lymph Nodes

The lymph nodes may become blocked because of fluid build-up in the tissue and cause swelling or enlargement. Although lymph nodes can become enlarged without reason, some of the most common causes are infection, injury, infections of the skin, tumours and surgery. The primary symptoms include pain and swelling, which often occurs in the leg.


Preeclampsia is high blood pressure and produces protein in the urine. This leads to swelling of the feet and ankles. It can be brought on by a poor diet, autoimmune disorders or blood vessel problems.

Vein Problems

Varicose veins have filled with abnormal collections of blood and can become twisted and swollen. They can be very painful and are another reason for swelling in the legs.

There is also a condition in which the veins in the legs are incapable of pumping blood back into the heart; this is called venous insufficiency.


Leg swelling is often obvious in that you can visually see the swelling, but to diagnose the cause there may be a need for other testing. There are many ways to diagnose the reasons for leg swelling. The blood chemistry can point to underlying causes, such as blood sugar levels and poor kidney or liver function. Urinalysis will determine if white or red blood cells are present in the urine, as this can help eliminate other health problems, such as diabetes or kidney disease. Ultrasounds are also conducted to determine if there is a blood clot present in the leg.


Avoid sitting or standing in one place for a long time. Get up and walk around to avoid further damage to your legs. Stretch your legs often when travelling in a car or plane. Spending a lot of time in one position is not healthy and increases your risk of leg swelling. Avoid restrictive clothing, exercise and walk whenever possible.

If you have a history of liver disease, it is important to consult your physician if you have signs of decreased urine output, swollen legs, a foot that is warm to the touch, or fever. If you are pregnant and experience a sudden increase in swelling, liver problems may be present. Leg swelling for those with a past history of liver disease can be fatal.

Medications such as hormones, steroids, antidepressants that include MAO inhibitors, or blood pressure medicine can be causes of leg swelling. Consult your physician if leg swelling occurred after starting a course of medication.

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