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Causes of Swollen Legs

By Lisabetta DiVita ; Updated August 14, 2017

Gradual swelling of the legs, also known as edema, can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. For example, leg swelling can indicate kidney problems or even heart failure. Raising the legs, wearing compression stockings, watching salt intake and taking a diuretic (water pill) can all help get rid of edema in the legs. Fortunately, the causes of swollen legs can be managed effectively.

Nephrotic Syndrome

Nephrotic syndrome is a problem in which excessive amounts of protein are found in the urine. The Mayo Clinic says specific symptoms include swelling of the ankles, feet or face. The legs can also be affected. Nephrotic syndrome also causes weight gain and a urine that appears foamy in the toilet (this is protein).

Destruction of the blood vessels in the kidneys can lead to nephrotic syndrome. Other causes of nephrotic syndrome include amyloidosis, a condition in which proteins called amyloids build up in the organs; diabetic kidney disease; and minimal change disease, a kidney disorder found in children.

Treating nephrotic syndrome involves treating the specific symptoms. Medications such as benazepril can help control blood pressure; water pills like furosemide can help rid the body of excess fluid; and medications such as atorvastatin can help lower cholesterol levels. Additionally, antibiotics can be prescribed to treat infections, and medications like warfarin can help prevent blood clots. Sometimes taking corticosteroids can decrease the inflammation in the body.

Heart Failure

Heart failure refers to a condition in which the heart fails to pump enough blood to the body. Specific heart failure symptoms include swelling of the feet or ankles. The legs can also be involved. Additional symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, weight gain, trouble sleeping, indigestion, loss of appetite, stomach swelling and a pounding heartbeat. Nausea, vomiting, loss of concentration and infrequent urination are other symptoms.

Coronary artery disease, a condition in which cholesterol obstructs the blood vessels, is the most common cause of heart failure, says MedlinePlus. However, changes in the heart muscle and toxins like alcohol can lead to heart failure, as can heart rhythm abnormalities and heart valve disorders.

Treatment for heart failure involve changing one's lifestyle. Simply limiting salt intake, exercising daily, losing weight and eating healthy meals can be beneficial. Patients may take medications such as captopril, candesartan and metoprolol to manage heart failure symptoms.

Acute Nephritic Syndrome

In acute nephritic syndrome, the tiny filtering structures in the kidney called glomeruli become inflamed. Symptoms include swelling of the legs, feet, eye, stomach, hands or face. This syndrome also causes bloody urine, blurry vision, cough, drowsiness and confusion.

Some causes of acute nephritic syndrome are Klebsiella pneumonia, vasculitis (a blood vessel inflammation), hepatitis, Goodpasture syndrome, measles and infective endocarditis (type of heart infection).

Treatment for acute nephritic syndrome involves limiting salts, fluids and potassium. Anti-inflammatory medications and corticosteroids can be used to reduce inflammation, says MedlinePlus.

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