What causes swelling in lower legs & feet?

Updated March 23, 2017

Swelling in the legs and feet can be uncomfortable and even embarrassing. This common condition can be indicative of many things--some serious, some not so much. Determining where your particular swelling is coming from is the first step in alleviating it .

Which People Usually Suffer From Swelling?

Swelling, or oedema, in the lower extremities is common among people who are of advanced age, are overweight or obese or are pregnant. Some women experience swelling of the feet and legs with the menstrual periods. Those who sit or stand for extended periods can also suffer from swollen legs and feet.

Non-Serious Causes of Swelling

Hormones in birth control pills and hormone replacement drugs, steroids, some types of blood pressure and antidepressant medications, blockage of the lymph nodes in the legs (a condition called lymphatic obstruction), varicose (spider) veins or a condition called venous insufficiency, in which blood flow to the lower extremities is inefficient, can cause swelling in both legs.

Serious Causes of Swelling

Heart, kidney and liver failures are all characterised by swelling in the legs and feet. These are very serious conditions that must be evaluated by a doctor. Blood clots, or a condition known as deep vein thrombosis, can also cause swelling in the legs, although it is usually only on one side.

Trauma, Bites or Surgery

Injury to the leg or foot such as a fall or cut, burns, insect bites or infections can cause leg swelling that is usually limited to one side but may occasionally be present on both. In some cases, a recent surgery can cause temporary swelling in the legs or feet.


If your swelling is accompanied by leg pain, shortness of breath, chest pain, decreased urination, a red or warm feeling in the swollen area, fever or if you are pregnant and have a sudden increase in swelling, call your doctor immediately.


Treatment for general leg and foot swelling involves exercising the legs every couple of hours to help blood flow, elevating them above the heart while sitting or lying down and wearing support stockings (available at most chemists). Reducing the amount of sodium in your diet also helps.

In some cases, a prescription diuretic may be needed.


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About the Author

Leeann Teagno has been writing professionally since 2006. An English major, she continues to study information systems management at American Public University. Teagno is an organic gardener, cook and technology buff with past employment in mobile communications. She also volunteers at an animal shelter and operates a home bakery.