What’s causing my legs to swell?

By Dr. Cohen

Swollen legs is a common complaint. But what to do about it isn’t so simple. It might be a symptom of vein problems. Or it could be a range of other conditions.

The three primary forms of swelling are edema (water retention), lymphedema and lipedema. What’s the difference?

If you press your thumb into the swelling and the indentation remains for a few minutes, you probably have what’s called “pitting edema” which is due to water retention. This condition generally gets worse over the course of the day. While it’s usually painless, edema can be a symptom of a range of conditions including vein problems, congestive heart failure, chronic lung disease, severe anemia, thyroid disease, malnutrition, certain medications, and kidney disorders. Or it could be a benign condition caused by warm weather, menstrual cycle or pregnancy.

Blocked veins (either superficial or deep veins) and venous insufficiency (varicose veins, leaky valves) are common causes of edema. These conditions cause an elevation of back pressure in the veins causing fluid to leak out into the skin. If you have edema and visible varicose veins there’s a good chance this is your problem. The good news is that treating the vein problem usually improves the edema.

If you press your thumb into the swelling and do NOT produce an impression, you may have lymphedema. Lymphedema is less common and is caused by a problem in the lymphatic system. Little vessels in the skin, called “lymphatic vessels” collect fluid, filter it through lymph nodes (in the groin), and ultimately release it back into the blood stream. A sluggish lymphatic system can swell one or both legs, typically extending to the feet and toes.

The other cause of leg swelling, lipedema, is not really a swelling at all. It’s an abnormal deposit of fat tissue in the lower body affecting up to 11% of women. It is usually somewhat painful, always affects both legs, and stops abruptly at the ankle, resulting in a “bracelet” around the ankle. Lipedema cannot be reduced through diet.

As always, if you have concerns regarding swelling in the legs, I suggest you consult your physician for a diagnosis and treatment.

You can arrange for a quick and easy consultation right now by calling 201-265-5300.

About us: There are 20 million Americans with vein problems that can seriously affect the quality of their lives. And as we age, they just get worse. As one of the few New Jersey medical practices committed exclusively to vein care, Advanced Vascular Vein Care is uniquely capable of alleviating those problems, whether they are medical or cosmetic. All treatments are non-surgical, usually covered by insurance, and delivered in an office setting. And we do it as it should be done – with compassion, excellence, affordability, convenience, and the personal touch. Call 201-265-5300 or visit AdvancedVascular.com for a quick and easy consultation.

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