What are the Common Causes of Leg Swelling?

Brandon May

Leg swelling can be related to varying factors or conditions, ranging from non-threatening to severe, all of which should be analyzed by a medical doctor. Non-serious factors associated with leg swelling include standing or sitting for long periods, which results in decreased oxygen or blood flow to the legs. Another common cause of swelling may be inflammation to the tissues in the legs or other parts of the body, making it an important development to be analyzed by a medical authority. Trapped fluids related to edema in the legs can also contribute to leg swelling, and can be a symptom of pregnancy or severe conditions like heart failure or acute kidney failure.

Edema can cause leg swelling.
Edema can cause leg swelling.

Poor circulation to the legs may result in swelling in the leg tissues and ultimately the legs themselves. When the body places most of its weight on a certain area of the body, poor blood circulation occurs and oxygen and nutrient flow is decreased, ultimately resulting in swelling and numbness. Removing the weight and slowly moving the legs aids in bringing down the swelling. This cause of leg swelling isn't severe as other causes, and doesn't require medication or further treatment.

An injury may lead to leg swelling.
An injury may lead to leg swelling.

Another cause of leg swelling may be related to inflammation of the joints or tissues in the legs, as this will increase swelling and pain. Inflammation may occur from an injury resulting in trauma to the joints and tissues in the legs, or it may also be related to an inflammatory disease occurring in the body. Arthritic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or damage to the bursa of the knee, also called knee bursitis, can increase inflammation and promote leg swelling. Anti-inflammatory medicines may be prescribed to combat this inflammation and the swelling in the leg.

When fluids become trapped in the legs due to peripheral edema, it may be the result of either benign or more severe conditions. Pregnancy has been known to increase fluid retention in various areas of the body, including the legs, though this should still be looked at by a doctor to make sure it is only a normal part of the pregnancy and not a risk factor for future ailments. Heart failure and kidney failure are more severe causes of leg swelling, making it crucial for an individual to seek medical attention if this symptom presents itself randomly. Allergic responses to different drugs or new foods may increase leg swelling, and are two causes which should also be addressed by a doctor.

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Discussion Comments

fify

I had leg edema for the first time recently after a ten hour flight. I sat still in my seat the entire time. When I finally got home, I noticed that my legs and ankles were unrecognizable. I had never seen them so swollen before.

After soaking my feet and legs in hot water and resting, the swelling went away. I hope I never get it again.

ddljohn

@SarahGen-- It happened to me once. The cause of mine was bursitis. It's when the bursa sacs located around the knee become inflamed. The common name for this condition is kind of funny. It's called "the housemaid's knee" because it develops in people who kneel a lot. So if you do a lot of housework kneeling, that would cause it.

The good news is that it usually goes away on its own. But no more kneeling. Keep resting and place a cold pack or ice pack behind each knee where the swelling is. My swelling went away after two days of rest and cold therapy. If it doesn't go away in a day or two, definitely see your doctor about it because there are other possible causes of knee swelling too.

SarahGen

I've suddenly developed swelling behind both knees. I don't know why it has occurred. I haven't injured myself. I've just been doing chores around the house. Now I can't move and have to lay down constantly.

Has anyone experienced this before? What is it?

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