How to Measure Peripheral Edema

Updated February 21, 2017

Oedema is the build-up of fluid between the tissue and cells under the skin which causes swelling. It is common in the legs and feet due to the effect of gravity on fluids trapped within the body. Oedema in the legs and feet is called peripheral oedema. It is more common in the elderly and can cause the inflammation of varicose veins. It can be caused by being overweight, prolonged standing, infection and blood clots. Peripheral oedema may be symptomatic of other illnesses such as kidney, heart or liver failure. Measuring peripheral oedema should be undertaken by a medical professional; however, you can perform a few simple tests at home.

Remove clothing that is covering your feet and legs.

Look at your feet and legs. Compare one leg to the other and look for differences in size. Your whole leg may be swollen; however you may notice areas that are more swollen or are out of proportion.

Press firmly on your leg or foot with a finger and remove.

Observe the reaction of your skin. This is an indication of the type of peripheral oedema you may have, and whether it might be related to other illnesses. Skin springs back immediately with non-pitting oedema. If an indentation remains for a while, this is pitted oedema. For example, non-pitting oedema is associated with problems with the lymphatic system.

Use a measuring tape to measure the circumference of your leg. Write down its circumference and repeat daily for a few days, using the same area on your the leg. Increasing measurements indicate swelling.

Measure the volume of water your foot and ankle displaces over the period of one week. A simple method to do this is with a bucket of water and a measuring tape. Measure the distance from the floor to the level of water in the bucket. Write down the water level measurement.

Place your foot in the bucket; ensure your ankle is covered by the water as well. Take another water level measurement and write it down.

Repeat step 7 twice a day for one week. You might need to find a helper to take the water level measurement.


Calculate the difference between the water level before and after you placed your foot in the water. The difference between the two measurements will increase as the water level rises. This indicates that the swelling has increased because your foot has displaced more water.

Bring your observations and measurements to a medical professional and seek advice about the swelling in your legs and ankles. Your measurements may assist in a diagnosis.


These measurements are simple tests you can do at home. Seek professional help for advice, diagnosis and treatment of peripheral oedema.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Bucket of water
  • Pen
  • Paper
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About the Author

Based in Bristol, Philippa Jones has been a music journalist and script writer since 2007, working across a range of radio programs in the U.K. and Australia. Her articles have appeared in "Impact Magazine," "The Mic" and in local newspapers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in politics from the University of Nottingham.