Leg Edema Symptoms & Causes

If you’ve ever stepped off an airplane after a long flight and noticed that your lower extremities were swollen, you’ve experienced a form of edema – an abnormal buildup of fluid in the legs, ankles, and feet.  Though edema can affect any part of the body, it’s particularly noticeable in the lower extremities due to gravity.

Aside from painless swelling, leg edema can produce a number of other symptoms depending on the amount of edema. In those who have heart disease, leg edema can cause the legs to weigh an extra five or ten pounds each. This makes the legs feel heavy, which can impair movement and walking. In more severe cases, edema in leg can interfere with blood flow and lead to ulcers on the skin.

Leg edema is common amongst older people and those who are overweight. People who have diabetes, blood clots, an infection, or veins in the legs that cannot properly pump blood back to the heart also susceptible to leg edema. Aside from these common situations, the following types of medication can also cause leg edema.

  • Antidepressants
  • Blood pressure medicines
  • Hormones such as estrogen and testosterone
  • Steroids

If you are experiencing leg edema and are searching for relief, here are some self-care tips you can try at home.

  • When lying down, keep your legs elevated above your heart by placing them on a pillow or a folded blanket.
  • Wear compression socks that apply gentle pressure to your legs. This promotes blood circulation and prevents swelling.
  • Watch your sodium intake. Following a low-salt diet can reduce fluid buildup and swelling in the legs.
  • Follow a regular exercise routine. Staying active helps with blood flow and pumps the fluid from your legs.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking eight to ten glasses of water per day. This helps flush excess salt from the body, which reduces swelling.

Though leg edema can often be treated at home with self-care measures, it can be a sign of a more serious health problem such as heart, kidney, or liver failure. Be sure to contact your doctor right away if self-care measures don’t help or if the swelling gets worse.