Edema is the medical term used for swelling. Swelling can affect a particular part of the body or the entire body due to some injury or inflammation. Apart from this, the other factors that can cause edema are side effects of certain medications, infections, pregnancy and few other medical conditions. Edema occurs when the small blood vessels in the body start to leak and release fluids to the nearby tissues. This extra fluid starts to build up and the tissues begin to swell eventually.
Leg edema will make the legs heavy and affect walking. In cases of severe leg edema, it will interfere with the flow of blood and lead to ulcers on the skin.
What Causes Edema in Legs?
Mild edema on the leg may be caused due to the following reasons.
- Staying or sitting in a single position for very long
- Consumption of too much salty food
- Premenstrual symptoms
Edema can also be caused due to some side effects of medicines which include:
- Medicines for high blood pressure
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines
- Steroid medicines
- Specific diabetes medicines
However, in some cases edema may be caused due to some serious medical conditions or diseases which are as follows.
- When the lower chambers of the heart are unable to pump the blood effectively as in the case of a congestive heart failure. The blood will move back to the legs, ankles and feet causing edema.
- Liver damage (cirrhosis) can also cause fluid to get accumulated in the legs.
- A kidney problem which makes the extra fluid and sodium in the circulation to cause edema and this type of edema occur mostly in the legs and around the eyes.
- Damage to the small filtering blood vessels in the kidney. In such cases the protein level in the blood drops resulting in the accumulation of fluid and edema.
- When one-way valves of the leg get weakened or damaged, the blood gets accumulated in the leg veins causing edema.
- Sudden swelling of one leg accompanied with pain in the calf can be caused due to a clot in the leg veins. This is a condition that requires immediate medical assistance.
- The lymphatic system helps to get rid of the extra fluid in the tissues. When the lymphatic system in the body does not function properly due to some factors like a cancer surgery then this can cause edema.
What are the Symptoms of Edema in the Legs?
Some of the signs and symptoms of edema in the leg include:
- Swelling of the tissue which is directly under the skin
- Expanded or shiny skin
- Skin that maintains the dimple for several seconds after being pressed with the hand
When to Seek Medical Assistance?
One must seek immediate medical care if he/she has leg edema accompanied by the following symptoms.
- Pain in the chest that lasts for more than a couple of minutes
- Breathing problems
These symptoms can be an indication of a blood clot in the lungs or some serious heart problem.
Leg swelling which is caused due to side effects of certain medication can also look similar to the leg swelling caused by some kidney problems. Therefore it is better to consult a doctor to diagnose the actual cause and take appropriate medication. Before making an appointment with the doctor, the person can try the following options to see if there is any relief from the swelling.
- Place a pillow below the legs while lying down to reduce the swelling which is caused by fluid accumulation.
- If you have to stand or sit in one position for very long, take breaks at regular intervals and move around unless such movement is causing any pain.
- Even if you suspect that the swelling is caused due to some medication, do not stop taking the prescribed medicines without consulting the doctor.
- Medicines available over-the-counter can be beneficial in reducing painful swelling.
What are the Risk Factors of Edema in the Legs?
For pregnant women, the risk of edema on legs is more because there is a great requirement of fluid by the fetus and placenta and therefore the body retains more sodium and water than required.
For other individuals, the risk factor of edema increases due to the following reasons.
- Taking certain medications for medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes etc., or taking some specific non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid drugs etc.
- Chronic illnesses like heart failure, liver or kidney diseases increase the risk of developing edema.
- Certain surgeries can damage the lymph node causing edema in arms or legs and mostly only on one side.
What are the Complications of Edema in the Legs?
If edema in the legs is ignored and left untreated it can lead to the following complications.
- More painful swelling
- Finding it difficult to walk
- The skin will get stretched and this can also cause itchiness and discomfort
- More chances of developing an infection in the swollen area
- Reduction in the blood circulation
- Reduction in the elasticity of arteries, veins, joints and muscles
- More chances of developing skin ulcers
What are the Tests and Diagnosis Required for Edema?
To know the actual cause of edema on the legs, the doctor will first conduct a physical examination and will ask questions to know the medical history. Normally, these two steps are enough to find out the root cause of the problem. But in some situations, the doctor will ask the patient to undergo few tests like X-rays, ultrasound, blood test and urine analysis to find out the reason for the swelling.
What is the Treatment for Edema in the Legs?
In order to diagnose edema, it is important to identify and treat the cause due to which there is swelling in the legs.
- Swelling caused due to some medicines can be treated with allergy medications prescribed by the doctor.
- Blockage in the fluid drainage can be treated by getting rid of the blockage and allowing proper flow of fluid.
- A blood clot in the leg can be treated with blood thinners in which the clot is broken down allowing free flow through the drainage.
- If a tumor is causing the blockage of blood or lymph, then the tumor can be shrunken or removed through different methods like a surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.
- If the edema in the legs is due to congestive heart failure or some liver problem it can be treated with a diuretic which is known as a water pill. By taking this, one will pass a lot of water and salt by urinating more and the fluid from the legs will flow back into the blood. But one must also limit the intake of sodium in the diet.
What are the Simple Home Remedies for Leg Edema?
The methods mentioned below can help to reduce the swelling and prevent it from recurring. But it is best to take the advice of a doctor before following any of these options.
- Moving the legs or some leg exercises will help to push back the excess fluid back to the heart.
- Always keep the legs clean, moisturized and free from any type of injury. If the skin on the legs is dry and cracked then there are more chances of scratches, cuts and infection. One can wear socks to protect the feet.
- Reduce the intake of salt by consulting the doctor since salt will increase the fluid retention and worsen the edema.
- Edema is more of a symptom rather than a disease.
- Edema occurs when the small blood vessels in the body start to leak and release fluids to the nearby tissues.
- In order to diagnose edema, it is important to identify and treat the cause due to which there is swelling in the legs.