When Should I Be Concerned About Leg Swelling

Written By Center for Vein Restoration
Leg swelling

Have your legs been more swollen recently? When you take off your socks and shoes, do you see deep indents in the skin of your ankles and feet (edema)? Does clothing feel tight on your calves or thighs, or maybe you’re experiencing a feeling of heaviness in your legs? You may be having symptoms of leg swelling (edema). Many people experience leg swelling (edema) at some point in their lives, but there are times when it could be a symptom of a more significant problem.

Continue reading for more information from Center for Vein Restoration (CVR) about when to be concerned about leg swelling, common causes and concerns, and how to address it with your vein specialist.

Understanding Swelling (Edema) in The Legs, Ankles, and Feet

Edema happens when fluid gathers in the tissue of your legs, causing them to swell and look enlarged and puffy. Leg swelling can be temporary and brought on by common things such as:

  • Prolonged sitting or standing, which can cause fluid buildup in the lower extremities

  • High dietary salt intake

  • Pregnancy

  • Injury or trauma to the swollen leg

  • Hot weather

These are all common issues that can be remedied by resting or elevating the swollen areas, using compression stockings to improve blood flow, limiting salt intake to a healthy amount, and staying hydrated.

Chronic edema, or swelling of the legs, that doesn’t improve with rest or compression could indicate a serious underlying condition and should be evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible.

Pregnant women should be aware of and report any significant changes in their peripheral edema as it could sometimes indicate preeclampsia, a serious complication that requires immediate medical attention.

Seek immediate medical attention if you’re experiencing a sudden onset of swelling in only one leg accompanied by:

  • Pain (particularly in the calf or thigh)

  • Difficulty breathing

  • The skin of the leg is warm and red

  • The area is experiencing pain that could be described as a “heavy ache”

  • Pain that gets worse when you point your foot upwards towards the knee

These could be symptoms of a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or a blood clot, which has the potential to become life-threatening.

When Should I Be Concerned About Leg Swelling?

Swelling in both legs that doesn’t respond to lifestyle changes can indicate a serious chronic condition. It’s important to recognize that swelling in both legs can be a sign of a significant health issue, and you should consult a doctor if you’re experiencing:

Bilateral Leg Swelling (swelling in both legs): Seek medical treatment immediately if you’re experiencing swelling in both legs accompanied by:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain

  • Coughing up blood

  • Rapid weight gain

  • Fatigue

  • Decreased urine production

These symptoms could indicate a blood clot in your lung (pulmonary embolism), heart or kidney disease, or other medical emergencies.

Skin Changes: If the swelling in your leg causes your skin to become tight and shiny, discolored (red or purple), it might be a sign of compromised blood flow. Skin changes that include ulcers that won’t heal or have just appeared, weeping, tearing of the skin, and raised or hard veins, should be reported to your doctor as they could indicate vein disease.

Swelling That Increases Over Time: Don’t ignore chronic leg swelling that gets worse over time without any apparent cause. The swelling could be caused by chronic venous insufficiency, a condition where the valves in the veins in the legs don’t allow blood flow to return to the heart, which causes blood and fluids to pool in the lower extremities.

Post-Surgical Swelling: Extreme swelling that persists or worsens over time after surgery could indicate a blood clot or an infection. Contact your doctor immediately if you’re experiencing leg swelling after any surgical procedure, not just surgery of the lower extremities.

History of Risk Factors: If you have any of these specific medical risk factors, such as a history of blood clots or deep vein thrombosis (DVT), obesity, smoking, are taking medication that has blood clots listed as a symptom, or have a history of high blood pressure, cancer, or heart disease, talk to your doctor if you notice swelling in the legs and lower extremities.

Swelling Doesn’t Improve: If you’ve noticed swelling in your legs, ankles, and feet that are getting progressively worse over time, and home remedies like elevation, compression, and reducing salt intake don’t work, seek medical advice to rule out underlying causes such as chronic venous insufficiency, deep vein thrombosis, or lipedema.

Swelling Accompanied by Pain: Edema in the lower extremities feels like a heaviness in the limbs and is occasionally accompanied by pain, including an aching or throbbing sensation of inflammation in the legs.

Mobility Problems: Swelling that impacts your daily activities or leaves you immobile should be brought to your medical team’s attention immediately.

Recent Injury: Swelling is a normal response to trauma and injury, but if the swelling persists, worsens, or is associated with other concerning symptoms, seek medical attention.

Pitting Edema: Pitting edema is swelling in the lower extremities where the skin retains a dent when pressure is applied. For example, if you were experiencing pitting edema and pressed your thumb into the swollen area, it would leave a temporary pit or dent in the skin.

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, seek medical attention.

When to Consult a Vein Specialist for Leg Swelling

At Center for Vein Restoration, we’ll conduct a comprehensive exam to evaluate the cause and severity of your leg swelling and help create a course of treatment tailored to your needs. To determine the underlying cause of the swelling, we’ll take a comprehensive history and ask questions such as:

  • Did the swelling just start (is it acute), or has it been happening for a while (is it chronic)?

  • When did you first notice the swelling?

  • Have you experienced any recent injuries or trauma?

  • Have you had any changes to the medication you’re taking, or have you started taking different over-the-counter medications or supplements?

It’s also important for us to know if you have a history of chronic illness such as heart, kidney, or liver disease or hypertension, as that could be contributing to the swelling and potentially be a life-threatening emergency. Tell your vein specialist if you have a family history of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease. This history, along with other factors, including your symptoms, can help your provider make an accurate diagnosis.

Our diagnostic process may also include:

  • Physical examination of the affected limb or limbs

  • Doppler ultrasound and other imaging tests to evaluate the blood flow in the veins and arteries of your legs to diagnose and rule out deep vein thrombosis or venous insufficiency

  • Laboratory tests such as blood work or urinalysis to assess kidney and heart function

Treatment For Leg Swelling

After we’ve assessed any underlying issues and causes, recommended treatment for leg swelling can vary from lifestyle changes to more comprehensive needs. Treatment includes:

  • Lifestyle Changes: Maintaining a healthy weight, seeking help with smoking cessation, and engaging in regular exercise can promote circulation and prevent constriction of blood flow.

  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy can improve circulation and muscle pump function, reducing the risk of swelling.

  • Vascular Care: If the cause of your leg swelling is chronic venous insufficiency or vein disease, Center for Vein Restoration can provide painless, non-invasive treatment options that get you back to your regular activities that day, while offering you relief from swelling.

Conclusion: The Causes of Leg Swelling and the Importance of Medical Attention

It’s important to ask, “When should I be concerned about leg swelling?” as swelling in the lower extremities can be a symptom of many different medical conditions ranging from minor to severe.

Not all leg swelling is cause for immediate alarm and can be attributed to everyday factors like sitting for long periods, pregnancy, standing for too long, dietary choices, and can resolve on its own with lifestyle changes like elevating the legs or wearing compression socks.

When swelling is sudden, persistent, severe, or comes with other concerning symptoms, it’s time to seek medical attention. These indicators should help you manage your level of concern and clarify when to self-manage your symptoms and when to talk to your doctor.

Protect your vein health by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, staying hydrated, and maintaining a balanced diet to help you reduce the risk of leg swelling and the underlying causes.

When you’re aware of changes in your body, you can make the right call when the time comes, and you think you should ask a medical professional about your symptoms. Early detection and treatment are key when addressing concerns about vein and circulatory health.

As the clinical leader in vein care, Center for Vein Restoration (CVR) is committed to providing clean, safe, and affordable vein care. For more information, give us a call or schedule an appointment online. Our vein clinic has multiple locations in the US. Call 240-965-3915 to speak to a Patient Services Representative about insurance coverage for your treatment. CVR accepts many insurances, including Aetna, Amerigroup, Anthem, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Cigna, MultiPlan, Medicaid, Medicare, and more.

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