Swollen legs should never be ignored. Causes range from the everyday to the deadly. An evaluation by a specialized vein center can help pinpoint the problem.
Many people live with swollen legs and have come to accept it as a normal part of life. However, leg swelling is a sign that bigger health issues are at work. Some health issues related to swollen legs will have an immediate impact, while others will slowly fester over time. Either way – leg swelling shouldn’t be ignored and deserves the attention of a specialist.
“When we see patients with leg swelling, it’s important for us to become something of a detective,” said Dr. Stephen F. Daugherty, a vascular disease specialist and surgeon at the Vanderbilt Vascular Surgery Clarksville. “We must consider many factors unique to the individual in order to determine the underlying problem, and that process is something that just doesn’t happen if the patient goes to a primary care doctor or an emergency department – they simply don’t have the expertise or the diagnostic tools.”
What causes swelling in the legs?
Common causes for leg swelling include:
- Vein inflammation related to a blood clot, called thrombophlebitis or deep vein thrombosis, which can be life-threatening.
- Failure of the one-way valves in the veins, called chronic venous insufficiency, varicose veins or spider veins.
- General trapping of fluids in the legs.
Less common, but still important, causes for swollen legs are:
- Kidney failure.
- Heart failure.
- Hormone therapy.
- High blood pressure caused by pregnancy, called preeclampsia.
- Blockage of veins of the pelvis.
Daugherty offered seven questions a vein expert might ask while investigating the cause of your leg-swelling issues:
- Do swollen legs and/or varicose veins run in your family? Do any of the conditions that cause leg swelling, like kidney failure or heart failure, run in your family?
- Have there been any recent changes to your health or medications?
- Do you have heart problems, kidney issues or arthritis?
- Does the swelling in your legs tend to be more noticeable toward the end of the day or after you have been on your feet for a long time?
- How well and long do you sleep at night? Are your legs elevated when you rest?
- Are you overweight? Do you eat a large amount of salt?
- For women: Do you notice that your condition changes with your menstrual cycle or are you pregnant? Do you have pelvic pain lasting over six months or deep pelvic pain with intercourse?
Treatment options for swollen legs
The most common causes of leg swelling in North America are varicose veins and obesity.
Varicose veins can be treated with minimally invasive outpatient procedures. Most people manage the condition with compression therapy before and after treatment, often with compression hose or socks.
Untreated, varicose veins will not improve on their own. Varicose veins often start small and grow larger. More severe cases may cause worsening swelling, pain, tenderness, a rash or red or brown skin changes near the ankles, venous leg ulcers, and deep vein thrombosis, which can be life-threatening.
Some people must manage the symptoms of swollen legs throughout their lifetime. Others see dramatic improvement with a simple procedure or change in lifestyle. The easiest way to prevent and fend off future issues with leg swelling is to maintain a healthy weight and stay active.
Don’t play the guessing game on your own. If you have swollen legs, see a vein specialist “detective” today.