Leg Swelling-When to be worried.

Swelling happens when a part of your body increases in size.  The medical term for swelling is edema. Swelling can occur in the skin, joints, and other tissues and organs of your body. There are several reasons for swelling, with some being more treatable than others.

The most common associated condition with leg swelling is chronic venous insufficiency.  Venous insufficiency  can be caused by damaged valves in the veins of the leg not able to close completely, allowing blood to flow backward away from the heart and pool in the legs. This results in swelling, as excess fluid escapes into in the tissues of the legs and feet. It is a serious circulatory disorder that usually becomes worse over time. This painful condition can result in disability, pain, leg fatigue and occasionally wounds. The pooled blood can cause skin changes causing the leg to turn brown or red over time.  This condition is worsened by prolonged standing and sitting, increased salt consumption, pregnancy and especially worsened by weight gain and obesity. Other common findings with venous insufficiency are varicose veins. 

Venous insufficiency as a result of faulty valves can be treated with compression therapy, leg elevation and ablation, or closure of the leaky vein.

If the veins are not the problem, the swelling can be caused by lymphedema. For a variety of reasons, fluid leaks into the tissues causing swelling.  The lymph system drains fluid from within your tissues to be filtered by the lymph nodes.  The lymphatic system may not be able to drain the extra fluid, resulting in lymphedema of the affected areas. It is commonly caused by the removal of or damage to your lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment. However, it can also result from a blockage in your lymphatic system at the groin as a result of obesity, weight gain or surgery. The blockage prevents lymph fluid from draining well, and the fluid buildup eventually leads to swelling.  

 Lymphedema is also treated with compression therapy generally applied as wraps and pumps by physical or occupational therapists certified in treating the condition.

These two conditions can occur separately but commonly occur together.  The chronic swelling from either condition can lead to damage of the veins and lymph vessels, perpetuating each condition.

Swelling can also be caused by heart and kidney failure but these conditions require specialized attention by your physician for management. 

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Jenna Wishnew Dr Wishnew is a Board Certified General Surgeon practicing in the North Texas area She specializes in general surgery, gastroparesis, wound care, vein concerns and robotic surgery.

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