Leg swelling can occur in any part of the legs, including the feet, ankles, calves and 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 an injury or prolonged standing or sitting, are easily identified. Sometimes leg swelling may be a sign of a more-serious disorder, such as heart disease or a blood clot.
Seek medical care right away when leg swelling occurs for no apparent reason or you also have difficulty breathing, chest pain or other warning signs of a blood clot in your lungs or a serious heart condition.
Many factors — varying greatly in seriousness — can cause leg swelling.
Seek emergency medical care if you have leg swelling and any of the following signs or symptoms, which may indicate a blood clot in your lungs or a serious heart condition:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath with exertion or lying flat in bed
- Fainting or dizziness
- Coughing blood
Also, seek immediate care if your leg swelling:
- Occurs suddenly and for no apparent reason
- Is related to a physical injury, such as from a fall, a sports injury or a car accident
- Occurs in one leg and is painful, or is accompanied by cool, pale skin
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:
- Restrict the amount of salt in your diet.
- Put a pillow under your legs when lying down, which may lessen swelling related to the buildup of fluid.
- Wear elastic compression stockings, but avoid stockings that are tight around the top (if you can see the indentation from the elastic, they may be too tight).
- 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 (nonprescription) pain medication may lessen painful swelling.
Jan. 11, 2018
- Sterns RH. Pathophysiology and etiology of edema in adults. www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Dec. 29, 2016.
- Edema. Merck Manual Professional Version. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/cardiovascular-disorders/symptoms-of-cardiovascular-disorders/edema. Accessed Dec. 29, 2016.
- Tintinalli JE, et al. Leg injuries. In: Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 8th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw Hill Companies; 2016. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed Dec. 31, 2016.
- Blood clots and travel: What you need to know. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt/travel.html. Accessed Jan. 3, 2017.
- Sterns RH. Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of edema in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Dec. 29, 2016.
- Knee problems. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases. https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Knee_Problems/default.asp#7. Accessed Jan. 3, 2017.