Leg swelling can occur in any part of the legs, including the feet, ankles, calves or thighs. Leg swelling can result either from fluid buildup (fluid retention) or from inflammation in injured or diseased tissues or joints.
Many of the causes of leg swelling, such as prolonged standing or sitting or an injury, are relatively harmless in the long term, and your doctor often can easily identify the reason for the problem. Sometimes, however, leg swelling may be a sign of a more serious disorder, such as heart disease or a blood clot. It's important to seek prompt diagnosis and treatment when leg swelling occurs for no apparent reason or is accompanied by apparently unrelated symptoms, such as breathing difficulties or chest pain.
If you have leg swelling, it's important to see a doctor for a thorough exam and accurate diagnosis.
Dial 911 or call for emergency medical assistance
Go to the emergency room or call 911 or your local emergency number if, in addition to leg swelling, you experience symptoms of a serious heart condition, including:
- Chest pain lasting more than a few minutes
- Difficulty breathing
- Fainting or dizziness
Also, seek immediate care if you know or suspect the swelling is related to a physical injury, such as a fall, sport injury or car accident.
Schedule a doctor's visit
Nonemergency problems related to leg swelling still need prompt care. Leg swelling that is the side effect of a drug can look just like leg swelling caused by a kidney disorder. Make an appointment as soon as possible, so that your doctor can diagnose the underlying problem.
Before your appointment, consider the following tips:
- Put a pillow under your legs when lying down, which may lessen swelling related to the buildup of fluid.
- If you need to stand or sit for long periods, give yourself frequent breaks and move around, unless the movement causes pain.
- Don't stop taking a prescription medication without talking to your doctor even if you suspect it may be causing leg swelling.
- Over-the-counter pain medication may lessen swelling associated with pain.
May 05, 2011
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- Cho S, et al. Peripheral edema. American Journal of Medicine. 2002;113:580.
- O'Brien JG, et al. Treatment of edema. American Family Physician. 2005;71:2111.
- Treatment of pain and inflammation. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec22/ch336/ch336e.html. Accessed March 1, 2009.
- Wilkinson JM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 3, 2009.