What Are the Main Causes of Swollen Legs?

Swollen legs can be painful and frustrating. There are a lot of reasons why your legs may be swollen. However, the most common one is the abnormal accumulation of fluid in your tissues. The medical term for swollen legs is edema. Some of the main causes of the problem include pregnancy, salt retention, and cellulitis. If you have swollen legs, seek the help of Ariel Soffer MD, FACC.

In some instances, swollen legs may be an indication of circulation and heart problems. It may be related to factors such as:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Heart failure
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Obesity
  • Sitting or standing for long hours
  • Pulmonary hypertension

Causes of Swollen Legs and their Treatment

Foot or Ankle Injuries

If you have sustained a foot or ankle injury, you may have a swollen foot. You may sprain your foot as a result of sports injuries, impact to your feet, or exercise injuries. The best way to deal with foot and ankle injuries is by applying the RICE procedure. It stands for rest, ice, compress, and elevate.

Venous Insufficiency

The veins in your legs have special valves that stop blood from flowing backward. If you have venous insufficiency, the valves in your legs may no longer function well. They may fail to transport enough blood to the heart. When blood flows back to the legs, it may cause swelling.

Symptoms of venous insufficiency include infection, skin ulcers, and a change in your skin color. If you have venous insufficiency, seek the help of a doctor as soon as possible. Your treatment may include wearing compression socks, regular exercise, and elevating your legs. The treatment you get depends on the severity of the problem.


Infections to your lower legs or ankles may cause swelling. If you have diabetes, you are at a high risk of developing infections in your feet. Gangrene is one of the most common causes of swollen feet. It causes your body tissue to die from severe infection.

The treatment depends on the type of infection you have and its severity. Your doctor may suggest surgery in severe cases.

Blood Clots

Blood clots in your feet or legs may be the cause of swelling. Usually, they develop on one side. The main types of blood clots are:

  • Deep-veined clots which occur in veins that are deep in your body
  • Superficial blood clots which typically occur close to the skin surface

The symptoms of blood clots include:

  • Fever
  • An area of warm skin on one leg
  • Pain or swelling in one leg
  • Color change on a part of your leg

If you suspect that you may have blood clots, seek the help of a doctor as soon as possible. If untreated, blood clots can be life-threatening. The most common treatment option for blood clots is an anticoagulant medication.

Swollen legs have many causes. Even though some of them may go away after some time, you may need the help of a doctor. They will provide you with a treatment that addresses the cause of your problem.