What You Should Know About Swelling in Your Legs

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Here are some factors your doctor may consider:

If you notice swelling in your feet or legs, you should definitely talk to your doctor about it. Swelling, or edema, can be caused by many things and it’s important to try to understand what is causing it.

If you see any reddish, blistering or swelling in the legs, especially if it is getting worse, take note of what makes it better or worse. Your doctor will want to know how long has it has been present and whether there has been any change to the pattern of the swelling.

Detective Mode

Your Doctor will ask a lot of questions about your medical history. Do you have heart related issues, kidney problems, liver or thyroid problems? Arthritis? Is the swelling in one leg or both? Could this be from a medication? Is the swelling painful?

Your legs will be examined  and more questions may be asked: what time of day the swelling is worse, what seems to trigger it and what helps relieve it. Where is the location of the swelling? Does it affect the foot and toes or does it start at the ankle? How far up the leg does it extend? Is there a change over the course of the day and improvement overnight?

Other questions other questions your GP will typically ask about:

  • Sleep: How long do you sleep at night? Do you sleep in bed? Some people sleep in a recliner but that means they are not really elevating their legs at night, which reduces swelling. If you sleep 8 hours, do you do all 8 in a row or do you get up and watch TV awhile before going back to bed?
  • Activity levels: Do you spend the entire day sitting at a computer or watching TV with your legs down? Does walking leave you short of breath? A lot of people develop trouble walking as they age and will only take a few steps from room to room. This means they are not using their calf muscle, which helps pump fluid out of the legs.
  • Are you overweight? Obesity can make swelling worse, and it can make you more likely to be sedentary, perhaps even when you start having a driver and all you do is at back of the car. Many people gain weight as soon as they stop walk or driving and all they do is sit behind a desk all day and at the back of a car all through the drive.
  • Salt intake: You may not add salt to your food, but do you know many foods are very high in salt? “Do you eat many things out of a can? What about ketchup? Hot dogs? Hamburger? That is all loaded with salt.
  • Medication changes: Some medications can cause swelling, especially if it is in both legs.
  • Hormones: If you are a younger woman, does the swelling happen at certain times in your monthly cycle?

Treatments

There are several ways to treat leg swelling. The first thing doctors often try are diuretics (water pills). This may not be the best treatment particularly if the swelling is not due to too much volume. Often using “counter pressure” ‒ wearing compression stockings to help push fluid out of the legs, is the most effective treatment.

Another option, used to treat lymphedema, is to use a technique called complete decongestive therapy that involves using massage to push out fluid, along with exercises and a low-compression wrap.

Some people walk with a limp due to obesity or arthritis, for example, so their calf muscle is not able to push up fluid when they walk. Those may be sent to physical therapy.

Some people with mild swelling might decide to not treat it, For example, an elderly person who lives alone and struggles to put on a stiff compression stocking might decide it’s not worth the frustration. “If it’s not bothering them, I agree but will ask them to come back if it gets worse,” she says. “But if they say the swelling is so bad that they cannot get shoes on, I will tell them they really need to wear the stockings.”

If you feel any of the symptoms mentioned here please see your doctor immediately.

 

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