It can be distressing when the legs and feet swell. Swelling can occur in both the arms and the legs and be caused by numerous factors. This swelling is often a result of excessive fluid buildup, inflammation, or damaged joints and tissues. When this occurs in the arms and the legs, it is generally known as peripheral edema or lymphedema if it is caused by damage to the lymphatic system.
Causes of Edema
The swelling can be common after injuries and often goes away over time. However, edema that does not resolve can be an indication of more serious conditions, such as heart, kidney, or lymphatic disorders. The following are several causes for peripheral edema:
- Lymphatic damage – this is known as lymphedema and generally occurs after cancer treatments or damage during a surgical procedure. Unfortunately, there is no cure for lymphedema due to damaged vessels, and inability to properly drain the fluid.
- Trauma or injury – This is a very common occurrence due an inflammatory response, especially after spraining an ankle, or after having surgery for bunions and hammertoes.
- Infections – This is commonly seen in cellulitis infections caused by staph or another bacterium.
- Insufficient Veins or venous blood clots – When veins have damaged valves, poor drainage back to the heart can result in fluid leaking into the tissues, and cause swelling. You may see varicosed veins on the legs before seeing swelling. If your leg is swollen, painful, and you are having difficulty breathing, this is a medical emergency, and you should see a doctor right away.
- Medications – there are numerous types of medications that can cause swelling in the legs and arms. These include, but are not limited to: diabetes medications, beta blockers and calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure and heart disease, some anti-depressants, hormones in replacement therapy, and steroidal medications.
- Heart Disease/Congestive Heart Failure – If an individual has coronary artery disease, history of heart attacks, or high blood pressure, edema can occur because of decreased heart function.
- Diabetes – Individuals with diabetes often have edema because of the high blood sugar levels, combined with medications they might be taking for it, as well as blood pressure.
- Kidney Disease – If the kidneys are not functioning properly, they can cause proteins to be lost from the body. Proteins help draw in fluid from the tissues and prevent edema from occurring.
Treatments for Peripheral and Lymphedema
Depending on the cause of the edema, it can be treated, or even cured. For most cases, the swelling is not permanent, and can be alleviated. Elevating the feet is one of the best starting treatments since this will help use gravity to pull fluid away from the legs. Compression socks are another great way to help relieve edema and work by applying pressure to the leg and squeezing the fluid back into the lymph vessels for recirculation. Your doctor may also temporarily prescribe diuretic medications to help the body relieve excess fluid.
Peripheral edema can be stressful, painful to deal with, and be an indicator of additional underlying health problem. If you have concerns about your swelling, please do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with Dr. Jay C. Larson at Sole Foot and Ankle Specialists in Glendale, Arizona. We will explain all your treatment options to available to you to help improve your health, function, and overall quality of life.