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Swelling of both feet and legs can occur with a wide array of conditions and diseases, some harmless and others serious.

Swelling that affects both lower legs and feet usually indicates a systemic condition rather than a localized problem, such as an injury or skin infection. Swollen lower legs and feet signal leakage of fluid from your circulation into the soft tissues, a condition known as peripheral edema. This type of swelling can occur due to something as simple as standing for a long time or might signal a problem with your heart, kidneys or liver.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Harmless Causes

  • Birth control pills
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Corticosteroids, such as:
  • amlodipine (Norvasc)
  • felodipine (Plendil)
  • nifedipine (Procardia) 

Heart Conditions

Conditions that reduce the heart's pumping ability often lead to pooling of blood in the lower legs and feet due to the effects of gravity. As a result of increased pressure caused by this pooling, fluid leaks into the soft tissues of the lower legs and feet. Congestive heart failure is a leading heart condition associated with peripheral edema, typically accompanied by shortness of breath with physical exertion. Inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart, or pericarditis, can also cause swelling of the lower legs and feet. Heart muscle conditions called cardiomyopathies can provoke this symptom as well.

Kidney Disease

Your kidneys maintain salt and water balance in your body 5. Diseases that damage the kidneys and/or disrupt kidney function often lead to abnormal salt and water retention with associated edema. The swelling might involve the face and hands as well as the lower legs and feet. Many kidney diseases can lead to edema 6. Some develop relatively quickly whereas others evolve slowly over many years, such as diabetic kidney disease.

Liver Disease

Liver diseases that severely reduce normal function lead to an array of changes in the body that can result in edema of the lower legs and feet 7. Fluid might also accumulate in the abdomen, a condition called ascites. Factors that contribute to edema with severe liver disease include reduced production of proteins and increased pressure in the veins that drain into the liver, or portal hypertension. Cirrhosis of the liver, in which the organ becomes severely scarred over several years, is a leading cause of liver-related edema. In the US, alcoholic hepatitis, chronic viral hepatitis and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease are the most common causes of cirrhosis.

Protein Malnutrition

  • Anorexia or bulimia
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Celiac disease
  • Gastric bypass surgery
  • Acute pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer :

Other Causes

  • Damaged valves in the leg veins, or venous insufficiency
  • Abnormal or damaged lymph vessels in the legs or pelvis
  • Blood clot in a deep vein of the abdomen or pelvis
  • Abdominal or pelvic tumor
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Underactive thyroid gland, or hypothyroidism :
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Moderate to severe abdominal bloating
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
  • Fever and/or chills :
The Wrap Up

Swelling that affects both lower legs and feet usually indicates a systemic condition rather than a localized problem, such as an injury or skin infection. Swollen lower legs and feet signal leakage of fluid from your circulation into the soft tissues, a condition known as peripheral edema. Congestive heart failure is a leading heart condition associated with peripheral edema, typically accompanied by shortness of breath with physical exertion. Many kidney diseases can lead to edema. Liver diseases that severely reduce normal function lead to an array of changes in the body that can result in edema of the lower legs and feet.

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