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

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

PVD Doctor
Discussion Guide

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

Download now

Third-Party Resources

Apps

CardioVisual

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

cardio visual app
app store, google play

Find a Doctor

Consult your doctor to learn more about and prevent swelling and edema. You can also use our tool below to find a specialist near you.

 
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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.

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