Information for severely swollen legs & feet

Updated November 21, 2016

Severe swelling in your legs and feet can be the result of an excessive amount of fluid that builds up in your tissues. The medical term is peripheral oedema. The condition can be very uncomfortable or painful. It may occur in one or both legs or feet.


Swollen legs and feet can be caused by prolonged standing or sitting, pregnancy, menstrual periods, injury or trauma, increased age, being overweight, infection, a blood clot, varicose veins, burns, surgery, medications, the bite or sting of an insect or venous insufficiency (a problem with your veins pumping the blood back to your heart).


Diagnosis may be made by any combination of physical examination, including careful analysis of your heart, lungs, abdomen, legs and feet; blood tests; X-rays; urinalysis; and electrocardiogram.


Treatment varies, depending on the underlying cause. Your physician may prescribe diuretics (water pills) to help your body eliminate excess fluid.


You can relieve some swelling of your legs and feet by keeping them elevated when you are lying or sitting, exercising, wearing support stockings and lowering your intake of salt.


If you are experiencing shortness of breath and/or chest pain, seek immediate medical treatment. Contact your doctor as soon as possible if you have other symptoms such as a decrease of urine, fever, swelling in your abdomen, warmth or redness in your leg or foot, or if you are pregnant and the increased swelling is sudden.


To prevent swelling, do not stand or sit for excessive periods of time. Try to stretch your legs periodically when you are flying or driving long distances.

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