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Leg Swelling

What causes leg swelling?

Leg swelling caused by accumulation of fluids in leg tissues is known as peripheral edema in the medical profession. Leg swelling can affect both men and woman of all ages. The fluid balance in our body is maintained by the circulatory system, the lymphatic system and the kidneys. There are many different risk factors can upset the balance of these systems, leading to accumulation of fluids in the tissues.

Causes of leg swelling

Gravity can contribute to the accumulation of fluids in the feet, ankles and lower legs, particularly with prolonged standing or sitting, especially in hot weather.

Chronic venous insufficiency. Commonly seen in patients with varicose veins, previous history of deep vein thrombosis and prolonged immobility. These problems make it more difficult for the leg veins to return blood back to the heart, and thus build-up of fluid in the lower legs.

Lymphedema- blockage of lymph system

Congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart can no longer pump efficiently, causes fluid accumulation in the lungs and other parts of the body. Swelling is often most visible in the feet and ankles.

Pregnancy can cause oedema in the legs as the uterus puts pressure on the vena cava. Fluid retention during pregnancy also can be caused by a more serious condition called preeclampsia.

Malnutrition, kidney and liver disease can lead to low protein levels in the blood, resulting in leg swelling. The proteins help to hold salt and water inside the blood vessels so fluid does not leak out into the tissues. If a blood protein, called albumin, gets too low, fluid will leak out into the tissue, leading to oedema, especially in the feet, ankles and lower legs

What are the symptoms of leg swelling?

Leg swelling of any cause can make the legs to feel heavy and interfere with walking. Severe leg swelling can interfere with skin blood flow, leading to ulcers on the skin. In general, the skin above the swollen area will be stretched and shiny. You should see a doctor to determine the cause of leg swelling.

What is the treatment of leg swelling?

The treatment of leg swelling should focus on the underlying cause. You should see a doctor to determine how and who should manage your leg swelling. For example, if your leg swelling is caused by venous insufficiency, elevate your legs periodically and wear compression stockings will help. If the venous insufficiency is due to varicose veins, Endovenous Thermal Ablation (eg Radiofrequency Ablation) or Endovenous Non-thermal Ablation (eg Venaseal, Clarivein) will fix the problem.

A group of patients may develop leg swelling because of Pelvic Vein Compression Syndrome. This is a relatively under diagnosed cause of leg swelling. The pelvic vein may be squeezed between overlying artery and the spine or compressed by pelvic tumour. This may lead to Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) resulting in complete obstruction of the pelvic vein. Treatment for pelvic vein compression involves balloon angioplasty and stenting of the affected pelvic vein. This will lead to improved efficiency for the blood to return to the heart and thus reduced in leg swelling.

No matter what the cause of leg swelling, any swollen area of the body should be protected from pressure and injury. The skin over swollen legs can be fragile. Any trauma to the skin may result in prolonged wound healing and the wound is also likely to get infected.