Leg swelling generally occurs because of an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the lower extremity. The medical term for leg swelling from excessive fluid in the tissues is peripheral edema. Persisting indentation of a swollen leg after pressure from a finger is known as pitting edema. Common causes of leg swelling include salt retention, cellulitis, congestive heart failure, venous insufficiency, pregnancy, and medication side effects. Less common causes of leg swelling include blood clots in the leg (deep vein thrombosis), parasite infection, lymphedema, liver disease and cirrhosis, kidney disease and nephrotic syndrome, broken ankle, broken leg, and diseases that cause thickness of the layers of skin, such as scleroderma and eosinophilic fasciitis. In these diseases, the leg swelling is typically characterized by nonpitting edema. When leg swelling occurs for unknown reasons, it is referred to as idiopathic edema.
Symptoms that can be associated with leg swelling include
- leg pain,
- shortness of breath, and
- ulceration of the skin.
Other causes of leg swelling
- Idiopathic Edema (Swelling of Unknown Cause, Typically in Women)
- Leg Vein Obstruction
- Liver Failure
- Nephrotic Syndrome
- Salt Retention
- Trauma Injury (Contusion)
Causes of Leg Swelling
A Baker's cyst, also called a popliteal cyst, is swelling caused by knee joint fluid protruding to the back of the knee (popliteal area of the knee). Not uncommon, Baker's cysts can be caused by virtually any type of joint swelling (arthritis). They are often resolved with removal of excess knee fluid in conjunction with cortisone injections.
Cellulitis is an acute spreading bacterial infection below the surface of the skin characterized by redness, warmth, inflammation, and pain. The most common cause of cellulitis is the bacteria staph (Staphylococcus aureus).
Cirrhosis of the liver refers to a disease in which normal liver cells are replaced by scar tissue caused by alcohol and viral hepatitis B and C. This disease leads to abnormalities in the liver's ability to handle toxins and blood flow, causing internal bleeding, kidney failure, mental confusion, coma, body fluid accumulation, and frequent infections. Symptoms include yellowing of the skin (jaundice), itching, and fatigue. The prognosis is good for some people with cirrhosis of the liver, and the survival can be up to 12 years; however the life expectancy is about 6 months to 2 years for people with severe cirrhosis with major complications.
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
Congestive heart failure (CHF) refers to a condition in which the heart loses the ability to function properly. Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, myocarditis, and cardiomyopathies are just a few potential causes of congestive heart failure. Signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure may include fatigue, breathlessness, palpitations, angina, and edema. Physical examination, patient history, blood tests, and imaging tests are used to diagnose congestive heart failure. Treatment of heart failure consists of lifestyle modification and taking medications to decrease fluid in the body and ease the strain on the heart. The prognosis of a patient with congestive heart failure depends on the stage of the heart failure and the overall condition of the individual.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT, Blood Clot in the Legs)
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in the deep veins, and can be caused by broken bones, trauma to a limb, immobility, medications, smoking, cancer, genetic predisposition, and cancer. Symptoms of a deep vein thrombosis in a leg are swelling, tenderness, redness, warmth, and pain. Treatments for DVT include medications and surgery.
A hematoma is a collection of blood that is outside a blood vessel. There are different areas where hematomas occur including; inside the skull, on the scalp, ears, septum, bones, finger nails, toenails, and intra-abdominal.
Iliotibial (IT) Band Syndrome
Iliotibial band syndrome is an overuse injury of the thigh and knee. Symptoms include knee pain and possible swelling. Treatment may involve anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, ultrasound, massage, using a foam roller at the site of pain, and the use of orthotics.
Kidney (Renal) Failure
Kidney failure can occur from an acute event or a chronic condition or disease. Prerenal kidney failure is caused by blood loss, dehydration, or medication. Some of the renal causes of kidney failure include sepsis, medications, rhabdomyolysis, multiple myeloma, and acute glomerulonephritis. Post renal causes of kidney failure include bladder obstruction, prostate problems, tumors, or kidney stones.Treatment options included diet, medications, or dialysis.
Lymphedema is a condition in which one or more extremities become swollen as the result of an impaired flow of the lymphatic system. There are two types of lymphedema: primary and secondary. Filariasis is the most common cause of lymphedema worldwide. In the U.S., breast cancer surgery is the most common cause. Symptoms include swelling of one or more limbs, cracked and thickening skin, and secondary bacterial or fungal infections of the skin. There is no cure for lymphedema.
Multiple myeloma is a form of cancer that develops in plasma cells, the white blood cells that make antibodies. Symptoms include bone pain, weakness, extreme thirst, nausea, frequent urination, and broken bones. Treatment of multiple myeloma depends upon the staging and symptoms of the disease.
There are many types of ovarian cancer, epithelial carcinoma is the most common. Women with a family history of ovarian cancer have an increased risk of developing the disease. Some ovarian cancer symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and abnormal vaginal bleeding, however, they usually do not present until the disease has progressed. Early diagnosis is important for successful treatment.
Phlebitis is the inflammation of a vein. Thrombophlebitis is when a blood clot causes the inflammation. Phlebitis can be superficial or deeper in the veins. A blood clot deep in a vein is deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Some of the common causes of phlebitis include prolonged inactivity, varicose veins, trauma to a vein, underlying cancers, clotting disorders, and other causes. Symptoms of phlebitis may be mild (pain, tenderness, redness, or bulging of a vein. Treatment of phlebitis depends on the cause.
Preeclampsia (Pregnancy Induced Hypertension)
Preeclampsia is related to increased blood pressure and protein in the mother's urine. Preeclampsia typically begins after the 20th week of pregnancy. When preeclampsia causes seizures, it is termed "eclampsia" and is the second leading cause of maternal death of in the US. Preeclampsia is the leading cause of fetal complications. Risk factors for preeclampsia include high blood pressure, obesity, multiple births, and women with preexisting medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or scleroderma. Pregnancy planning and lifestyle changes may reduce the risk of preeclampsia during pregnancy.
Pulmonary hypertension is elevated pressure in the pulmonary arteries that carry blood from the lungs to the heart. The most common symptoms are fatigue and difficulty breathing. If the condition goes undiagnosed, more severe symptoms may occur. As pulmonary hypertension worsens, some people with the condition have difficulty performing any activities that require physical exertion. While there is no cure for pulmonary hypertension, it can be managed and treated with medications and supplemental oxygen to increase blood oxygen levels.
There are many types of quadriceps injuries, including strains, contusions, Osgood-Schlatter disease, patellar tendinitis, quadriceps tendinitis, jumper's knee, tendinitis, compartment syndrome, rupture, and herniation. Symptoms and signs of a quadriceps injury including pain, swelling, limping, and decreased range of motion. Treatment of most quad injuries includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Ibuprofen may help with pain relief.
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease of the connective tissue. It is characterized by the formation of scar tissue (fibrosis) in the skin and organs of the body, leading to thickness and firmness of involved areas. Scleroderma is also referred to as systemic sclerosis, and the cause is unknown. Treatment of scleroderma is directed toward the individual features that are most troubling to the patient.
What Is Eosinophilic Fasciitis (Shulman's Syndrome)?
Eosinophilic fasciitis is a skin disease that causes thickening and inflammation of the skin and fascia. Symptoms include redness, warmth, and hardening of the skin, as well as occasional tissue and joint pain. Treatment for eosinophilic fasciitis aims to eliminate inflammation through the use of aspirin, NSAIDs, and cortisone.
When Should You See a Doctor for a Baker’s Cyst?
A Baker’s cyst is caused by excess fluid putting pressure on the back of the knee joint. Learn about the signs and symptoms, how a Baker’s cyst is diagnosed, and the treatments available.