Top 10 Causes of Leg Swelling—and When to Call Your Doctor

Heart Health News     Summer 2018
Leg Swelling - Large

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Buildup of fluid, or edema, is a common cause of leg swelling. Causes can be minor and temporary—or severe health risks.

Many causes are just a natural part of life. Pregnancy, for instance. Some can be successfully managed at home. Others, however, require a call to your doctor.

Top 10 contributors to leg swelling include:

  1. Long airplane flights or car rides. Or standing for long periods of time.
  2. Menstruation
  3. Estrogen in birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy
  4. Pregnancy. Most pregnant women experience some swelling of the legs, feet or ankles. More severe swelling, however, could signal a serious condition called preeclampsia, which is accompanied by high blood pressure and requires immediate medical attention for mother and baby’s health.
  5. Medications such as steroids, blood pressure medicines called calcium channel blockers and antidepressants, including MAO inhibitors and tricyclics
  6. Injury or surgery to the leg, ankle or foot. Pelvic surgery may also result in edema, or leg swelling.
  7. Leg veins that do not properly pump blood back to the heart (a contributor to varicose veins)
  8. A leg infection
  9. Blood clot in the leg
  10. Serious health conditions such as heart, kidney or liver failure

Plus, the risk for leg swelling increases with age and weight gain.

Tips for reducing edema and leg swellingLeg Swelling - In Content

Your doctor may recommend the following simple self-care measures to help you control edema and leg swelling:

  • Use pillows to raise your legs above your heart while lying down.
  • Maintain a low-salt diet, which may decrease fluid retention and swelling.
  • Lose weight if you’re overweight.
  • Exercise your legs. This will help pump fluid from your legs to your heart.
  • Take frequent breaks to get up and move around when travelling.
  • Wear support stockings, which you can buy at most drugstores and medical supply stores.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing around your thighs.

If you take medicine that you think is causing swelling, check with your doctor before you stop taking it.

When to call your doctor about leg swelling

  • Self-care measures, such as those listed above, do not reduce swelling—or swelling worsens.
  • You are pregnant and experience more than mild swelling, or swelling suddenly increases.
  • Swelling gets worse—and you have heart or kidney disease
  • You have a history of liver disease along with swelling in the legs.
  • Your swollen leg or foot becomes red or warm to the touch.
  • You have a fever.

And call 911 when you feel short of breath or have chest pain, especially with a feeling of pressure or tightness.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.

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