What Causes Edema in the Legs? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

by | Jun 17, 2022 | Blog | 0 comments

If you’ve ever noticed swelling in your legs, arms, hands or feet, edema could be to blame. Edema, or fluid retention, can range from mild to severe depending on the severity of swelling and the underlying cause.

It is important to note that minor swelling differs from edema. While general swelling is the abnormal enlargement of any body part, edema is the swelling of tissue around a specific joint.

In many instances, swelling is due to injury, illness or an allergic reaction and often goes away on its own after proper diagnosis and care at home.

In some cases, more severe swelling, or edema, is tied to a more serious condition such as congestive heart failure, which may require immediate attention for a more thorough evaluation and long-term prognosis.

Although a venous condition is not always to blame as the root cause for edema, there are ties between leg swelling and venous insufficiency.

Let’s discuss edema in more detail, especially as it relates to the legs.

What Is Edema?

In simplest terms, edema is excess fluid accumulation in your body tissues.

It can happen anywhere in the body but is most often noticed in the lower extremities, including the lower legs, ankles and feet.

What Causes Edema?

There are various lifestyle factors and underlying causes that can lead to edema, including

  • venous insufficiency
  • obstructive sleep apnea
  • heart failure
  • cirrhosis of the liver
  • kidney disease
  • diabetes
  • thyroid disorders
  • deep vein thrombosis (blood clots)
  • allergic reactions
  • certain medications
  • cancers
  • infection
  • pregnancy
  • preeclampsia
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • sitting and standing for long periods
  • previous radiation or chemotherapy treatments


While the most common symptom of edema is excessive swelling, other symptoms include skin that looks puffy, stretched and shiny.


If left untreated, severe edema can lead to

  • worsening swelling
  • decreased mobility
  • overly stretched skin
  • extreme itchiness
  • decreased blood circulation

It is important to note that if edema is due to an underlying, serious health condition, complications from the condition itself may also appear.

The Tie Between Chronic Venous Insufficiency and Edema

Venous insufficiency is one of the most common reasons people may experience edema.

Healthy veins work by carrying blood back to the heart equipped with valves in the veins to stop the blood from flowing backward. When these valves weaken or become blocked, your veins have trouble properly sending the blood back to the heart, leading to venous insufficiency.

This delayed and inefficient process causes blood to pool in the lower legs, leading to symptoms such as leg swelling or edema.

If left untreated, it can lead to worsening symptoms such as deep vein thrombosis or blood clots.

Comprehensive Edema Treatment in Virginia

If you or a loved one is living with edema that may be tied to venous insufficiency or another vein-related condition, we can help.

Our experienced team at Virginia Vein Care specializes in personalized treatment plans based on your unique health and wellness needs.

Offering the latest minimally invasive treatment options, we can help you relieve vein-related symptoms, like swelling in the legs, due to edema.

Please visit a Virginia Vein Care location near you to learn more.