Swelling/Edema

    Legs with swelling edema

    While some people with PVD have very few symptoms, others may have more severe ones. What may start out as tired, heavy legs, can progress to chronic swelling, or edema, usually in the feet, ankles, or legs. This swelling can become rather uncomfortable throughout the day, or after standing for long periods of time. When these areas start to swell, the skin may feel puffy to the touch, red or painful, depending on its severity.1

    Symptom Details

     

    When swelling is not a result of an injury it can be concerning. The symptom may be the result of many different conditions, but it may also signify an underlying venous condition such as deep venous disease (DVD), superficial venous insufficiency (SVI) and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

     

    These venous problems lead to pooling of the blood in the legs or obstructed veins. Without proper blood flow in these areas, extra fluid can begin to build in the tissue. This pressure can cause puffiness in one leg or both, often restricting the range of motion in the ankles and feet.

     

    For some people, swelling can become so uncomfortable that the skin in the area becomes stretched and shiny.2 The skin can begin to seep and cause further breakdown.

     

    The progressive condition may start out with mild symptoms but with time, may lead to more moderate to severe symptoms.1,2,3

    Mild

    • A feeling of fullness or heaviness in the leg
    • Swelling may come and go periodically, depending on the disease and your level of activity
    • A warm feeling in the leg may develop
    • Swelling may affect just a small area

    Moderate

    • Discomfort, especially when in motion
    • Skin changes, such as discoloration and redness
    • Clothing may not fit properly
    • The skin may feel tight, stretched, or itchy
    • Varicose veins may develop

    Severe

    • Fluid spreads, becoming trapped in the leg and ankle
    • There may be pain if the swelling becomes extreme
    • Swelling becomes chronic and is generally not relieved with compression stockings or by elevating legs
    • Difficulty walking, especially as venous disease progresses

    Causes

     

    Swelling in the feet and ankles can be the result of venous problems, including damaged valves that cause pooling of blood or obstructed veins that can’t transport enough blood back to the heart. When veins can’t function properly, fluid is forced out of the blood vessels into the surrounding tissue.

     

    Swelling in these areas may also be a result of obstructed lymphatic vessels, known as lymphedema. Fluid can begin to collect in these vessels and leak out into the tissue.

     

    There are also various conditions not related to PVD that may cause swelling. It is important to consult your doctor to determine the cause of swelling.

    Risk Factors

    Icon of two legs, which one of them is inflammated

    Various conditions can lead to swelling, depending on underlying causes. Some people may carry a higher risk than others for developing the symptom.

    Risk factors include:3,4

     

    • Chronic conditions such as heart disease, liver disease and kidney disease
    • Pregnancy, which can put pressure on a woman’s pelvic area and surrounding veins
    • Age can be a factor as blood flow slows in the legs
    • Salt and other high sodium foods can increase risk
    • Standing or sitting too long can disrupt blood flow
    • Certain medications can lead to swelling
    • Previous history of DVT resulting in vein valve damage

    What to Look For

     

    If you are unsure of what to look for when determining if you have chronic or severe swelling, these are some helpful tips. It is important to consult your doctor to help determine a correct diagnosis.

     

    • Puffiness
    • Discomfort
    • Skin changes such as redness or discoloration
    • General warmness in the affected area
    • When pressing on the skin, it leaves a dent
    • Motion in ankles may be restricted as swelling progresses
    • Difficulty walking in severe cases

    Associated Symptoms

    Varicose Veins

    Varicose veins can become inflamed when the pooling of blood results in pressure on the vein walls resulting in redness, swelling, and a diffuse pain.

    Skin Changes

    The skin of the legs, ankles or feet may exhibit color changes, eczema, temperature changes, thickening of the skin and itching.

    Tired, heavy legs

    Bothersome leg discomfort may include pain, tiredness and heaviness due to increased venous pressure in the legs.

    When to See a Doctor

     

    When mild leg swelling persists or when you have moderate to severe swelling that does not go away, it is important to obtain a diagnosis right away.

     

    Take the step and talk to your doctor, or use our tool to locate a physician to get the help you need.

    Helpful Resources

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    PVD Doctor
    Discussion Guide

     

    Get helpful tips and advice on how to talk to your doctor about a PVD screening.

    Third-Party Resources

    Apps


    CardioVisual

    A mobile app built by cardiologists, to simplify understanding of most cardiac and peripheral vascular conditions and treatments.

    Find a Doctor

     

    Consult your doctor to learn more about PVD and how to maintain your health. You can also use our Doctor Finder tool below to find a specialist near you.

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    This tool is not inclusive of all specialists. Consult with your insurance provider to find specialists that are covered within your network.

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    1. “Leg swelling Causes.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 01 Apr. 2017.

    2. “Causes and signs of edema.” PubMed. U.S. National Library of Medicine. December 30, 2016

    3. Trayes et al. “Edema: Diagnosis and Management.” Am Fam Physician. 2013 Jul 15;88(2):102-110.

    4. “Edema.” Medline PLUS. U.S. National Library of Medicine.

    Disclaimer

     

    The opinions and clinical experiences presented herein are for informational purposes only. Individual results may vary depending on a variety of patient-specific attributes and related factors. Dr. Raghu Kolluri has been compensated by Philips for his services in preparing and providing this material for Philips further use and distribution.

     

    We offer links to third-party websites that may be of interest to our website visitors and in no way, represent any affiliation or endorsement of the information provided on those linked websites. These links are provided solely for your convenience and to assist you in learning more information on this topic. However, Philips does not control, endorse or guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on the linked sites. In addition, Philips makes no representations or warranties of any kind with regards to any third-party websites or information contained therein. If you have any questions or concerns about the information on the linked third-party websites, please contact the third-party websites directly.

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