Leg Swelling


Leg swelling, known as peripheral edema, is the swelling of the lower extremities. Puffy legs can be an indication of a problem in the venous circulation system due to vein damage or diseased vein valves that are not functioning properly, or an issue with the lymphatic system or the kidneys.

Due to the damage, gravity pulls bodily fluids down into your legs causing them to swell.



Swollen or puffy legs and ankles


Trouble walking

Pitting (You can gently push the swollen area with an finger and it will leave an imprint in the skin)
Heavy or stiff legs

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Mild leg swelling is common when you’ve been on your feet all day or if you’ve been stuck on an airplane or in a car for hours. This is known as edema and it happens when fluid builds up in your legs and feet. This type of puffiness can happen to almost anyone and can be alleviated by getting up frequently to walk around when on a plane. You can reduce puffiness by going for a walk, doing some ankle rolls, or propping your feet up on pillows.

Venous insufficiency is another term that is used to diagnose damaged or weak veins that cannot pump sufficient blood back toward the heart and thus causes the blood to pool into the lower portion of the legs, ankles, and feet. This condition can be inherited by more women than men.

Pooling of blood caused by improper drainage can cause the pressure in the veins to increase and the fluid is pushed out of the veins into the tissues beneath the skin, resulting in swelling. This can further lead to strain on your lymphatic system.


Because of the damaged valves, blood cannot effectively return to the heart and pools in the lower ankles and feet. This results in higher than normal pressure (venous hypertension) and causes the lower extremities to swell.

The cause of leg swelling is not always a problem with your circulation. Leg swelling can happen from fuild buildup caused by being overweight, long periods of inactivity, or wearing tight stockings or jeans. Leg swelling can also be caused by osteoarthritis, knee bursitis, an ACL injury, or other conditions.

Medications such as steroids, estrogen, testosterone, certain antidepressants, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin can result in swelling in your legs as well.

Other Causes of Leg Swelling

There are a variety of factors that can cause leg swelling. Some of these issues can be temporary such as:


Typically goes away after birth. Pregnant women can experience edema because their bodies retain the extra fluids that are needed for the fetus. This is common during the third trimester, as the growing baby puts additional pressure on your leg veins, slowing blood circulation and causing fluid to build up. You should let your doctor know about your condition as it may mean you have a serious condition known as preeclampsia.

Sedentary lifestyle:

Standing or sitting for long periods of time can cause the lower extremities to swell because the inactive muscles cannot properly pump fluids back to the heart.


Eating excess salty foods can throw off the sodium to water ratio that is needed in the body. The human body typically secretes the extra sodium through the urine, but the body can also retain fluid if there is too much in the bloodstream.


Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage is eroded through normal wear and tear. Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease wherein your immune system attacks tissues in your joints. Either type of arthritis can lead to leg swelling if they become serious enough.

Other factors that can cause leg swelling are an indication of more chronic conditions such as:


Heart Failure:

Occurs when a side of your heart is not efficiently pumping blood throughout the body. Less blood pumping will cause fluid retention in the lower extremities.


This refers to long-term inflammation of the sac-like membrane around the heart, known as the pericardium. This causes difficulty breathing along with severe and chronic swelling in the legs and ankles.


This condition results in a blockage in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is comprised of lymph nodes and blood vessels which assist with carrying fluid through your body. A blockage can cause tissues to swell with this fluid in the arms and legs.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT):

Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of your body such as the pelvis, thigh, or lower leg. DVT can cause enlarged veins near the surface of the skin, pain or tenderness in the affected leg, and swelling, usually in one leg.

Can I reduce my leg swelling?

If the swelling in your legs is not causing you pain, this may be remedied by raising your legs above your heart when you lie down. Let gravity help you by putting some pillows under your feet. Regular exercise can also help pump the fluid out of your legs and towards your heart.

Reducing your sodium intake is a healthy lifestyle to pursue for many reasons. Salt promotes fluid buildup, so consuming less will help you reduce your fluid levels. Try wearing graduated support hose to help your veins pump more effectively, but be careful not to wear anything too tight such as garters which can hinder circulation. Take frequent breaks when at work or traveling.

Losing weight is a good way to reduce the strain on your body, particularly on your blood vessels as well.

When to Seek Treatment for Leg Swelling

Leg swelling treatment will depend on the root cause. Compression stocking can usually provide a measure of relief, but vein treatment may be necessary. Your treatment will be affected by other factors such as your age, overall health and medical history, other medical conditions, and the severity of your condition.

There are other conditions which can make your legs swell such as infections, injuries, or arthritis. If the puffiness in your leg is not too substantial and goes away in a day or so, it shouldn’t trouble you.

Leg swelling that lasts longer than a couple of days, or affects only one leg, you should let a vein doctor examine you before the condition worsens.

Our practice is experienced with offering the most progressive approaches in treating patients with advanced symptoms of venous reflux disease including the diseases mentioned above including leg swelling. Consult with our physician today to learn more.

Connect with any of our two locations in McLean, and VA, Purcellville, VA to have your venous condition examined and treated by our highly-experienced staff.