Leg swelling is one of the most common problems and this can occur on all parts of the legs like the feet, ankles, knees, thighs and the calves. The medical term for leg swelling is edema. Edema means that there are fluids stuck together in places where they are not supposed to be, so this would cause for that location to swell. Sometimes, leg swelling just suddenly occurs without a warning. You sleep at night looking fine and when you wake up you feel your legs tightening and notice them swollen. You may thing that it was something you ate the night before, or something you did that caused the swelling to happen.
Mechanism of Action for Leg Swelling
The mechanism for swelling of the legs usually goes like this. Your blood is circulated throughout the body. From the heart, it would be easier to pump out blood. But on the legs, it’s more difficult due to gravity. The ones that help pump the blood back up to the heart are the leg muscles. At some point, leakage of fluids will happen due to increased pressure in pumping of the fluid. When this leaks, the fluid will be trapped on some parts of your leg tissue or joints causing it to be inflamed or to cause leg swelling.
Causes of Leg Swelling
Causes of leg swelling can either be mild or severe. Mild leg swelling usually is easier and quicker to remedy than the severe type of swollen legs.
• Mild/Intermediate Leg Swelling – This usually happens when you sit or stand for a long period of time without enough movements on your legs. This will cause your muscles to relax and will not have much force to help the fluid be pumped back to the heart, allowing it to be trapped on the joints or the tissues of your legs leading to swelling. Swelling may also be due to traumatic injury like spraining the ankle or breaking of bones of the legs. This would cause the fluid circulation to be disrupted and gather up in huge amount in a joint or in the tissues of the legs leading a swollen leg. Certain medications can also cause swelling of the legs.
• Severe Leg Swelling – This is a serious type of swelling. Majority of cases are caused by serious diseases that concern the heart, kidney and veins. Here are the common serious diseases that cause leg swelling:
o Congestive heart failure – This is a condition that is caused by abnormal pumping of fluid from the heart to the different parts of the body. Leg swelling occurs when the veins of the legs exert too much effort in pumping the fluid back to the heart causing it to leak to nearby tissues in the process. The leak would then cause leg swelling. Because of increased pressure, the fluid in the capillaries of the lungs is also forced into the spaces responsible for transporting oxygen resulting to suffocation of the patient. Shortness of breath is one of the indicators that a person has congestive heart failure.
o Kidney diseases – Kidney failure or acute kidney diseases would mean that your kidney has lost or impaired its function to eliminate excess fluids in your body. When this happens, the fluids gather up on tissues and joints making your legs swell in the process.
o Chronic venous insufficiency – This happens when there is poor circulation or pumping of fluids within the body caused by a weak heart.
o Deep vein thrombosis – This is when a blood clot is suspected in your system causing an alteration or delay in the circulation of the blood in the veins. When this happens, fluids could gather up in tissues or joints of the legs causing them to swell.
o Peripheral artery disease – This is a type of disease when the veins narrow down because of the formation of a thick yellow substance on the wall of the veins making it hard for the fluid to pass through. This yellow substance is called cholesterol or fat.
Remedies for Leg Swelling (Treatment)
• Avoid excessive salt intake. Salt can cause kidney damage or fluid buildup adding to the possibility of leg swelling.
• Drink plenty of water. It might sound ironic that we use water in order to get rid of excess fluids, but drinking lots of water can greatly help in flushing out excess toxins out of your system. A more serious disease may be prevented, and eventually, the swelling will cease.
• Exercise regularly. Walking is one of the most effective aerobic exercises that can prevent leg swelling from happening. As aforementioned, our leg muscles pump fluids back up to the heart so exercising our legs will condition our leg muscles to do its function properly.
• If your job requires you to stand up or sit down for prolonged periods, wearing of compression stockings is advisable. Also, do not settle on one position only. Stretch your legs, flex your heels and your knees from time to time.
• After a long day of standing up or sitting down, it is advisable that you elevate your legs so that it is higher than your chest level. One way to do this is to lie down on your back, place a pillow or two on your legs to elevate it. As you do this, you will feel a light sensation on your legs as this process helps the blood on your legs rise up again to be pumped easily into your heart.
• If you are overweight, try to lose some weight. One of the causes of leg swelling is the narrowing of the veins due to fats. It would take some work to do this but it will surely be worth it.
• Stop cigarette smoking if you are a smoker. If you have a hard time doing this, start by minimizing smoking until such time that you can totally let go.
• If the leg swelling still persists after you’ve done your part, it is time to consult your doctor. Possible serious diseases may have caused your leg to swell. The doctor may also prescribe diuretic drugs such as furosemide, and hydrochlorothiazides.
Leg swelling can either be serious or not, but whatever the cause may be, the important thing is to take action to correct this immediately.