Treatment for Leg Swelling

Updated April 17, 2017

People experience leg swelling for a variety of reasons. To best treat swollen legs, you and your doctor must determine the underlying cause for the swelling. Legs may swell due to innocuous causes or as a result of a serious life-threatening condition. If your swollen legs do not resolve on their own after a couple days or if you suffer other symptoms, visit your doctor for an evaluation. Based on your doctor's findings, your treatment options will vary.

General Leg Swelling

People who sit or stand for long periods often experience swelling in their legs. If both of your legs swell equally and you have been standing for several hours, the swelling is probably due to leg inactivity. Stretch your legs to encourage blood flow, make sure you're properly hydrated, eliminate excess sodium in your diet and rest with your legs elevated. Consider anti-inflammatory medication as well. Even if your legs return to normal size, consult a doctor to make sure no serious condition contributed to the swelling.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

One of the most serious conditions that causes leg swelling is a blood clot in one of your leg's deep veins, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis. Blood clots may form after long periods of leg inactivity, such as on a long flight or hospital bed. Unlike general leg swelling, a blood clot usually causes only one leg to swell. Other symptoms of deep vein thrombosis include pain, redness and leg warmth. If you suspect the swelling is due to a blood clot, see a doctor immediately. Blood clots may become dislodged from the leg and travel to the lungs, resulting in a life-threatening condition known as a pulmonary embolism.

If you have a blood clot, your doctor may prescribe powerful anticoagulants (blood thinners) to stabilise the size of the clot. Over time, your body should naturally absorb the clot and eventually eliminate it completely. Common anticoagulants include the orally-administered warfarin and the IV-administered heparin. If the clot is especially large and at great risk for dislodging, your doctor may prescribe thrombolytics to dissolve the clot. However, since thrombolytics carry significant risks, such as bleeding, doctors only prescribe them when absolutely necessary.

Heart Disease and Other Conditions

If you suffer from a serious condition such as heart disease, kidney failure or liver failure, your leg tissues may contain excess fluid that leads to swelling (known as oedema). As your doctor treats the more serious condition and eliminates fluid from the body, your legs will often return to normal size. Serious organ failure usually causes symptoms far more worrisome than leg swelling. Thus, if you experience shortness of breath, dizziness, breathing trouble or chest pain in addition to swollen legs, call 911 immediately.

Other conditions that lead to leg swelling include bug bites, infection, varicose veins and burns. With most of these conditions, your legs will return to normal size without medical attention. If you suffer from an infection, you may need to take antibiotics. As the infection clears, the swelling will subside.

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About the Author

Alexander Grouch is a freelance screenwriter, journalist and children's book author. He currently writes music reviews for "The Red Alert." Grouch has visited all 48 contiguous states and plans to document his journeys in a travelogue. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Africana studies from Brown University.