Why Do Feet & Legs Swell?

By Debra Bacon

After a long day of work where standing or sitting is a requirement, many of us may come home and "put our feet up." We often do this because our feet and legs are aching and sometimes swollen. The reasons why feet and legs swell cannot be generalized; therefore, carefully note the circumstances surrounding the event. Only a health-care provider can diagnose the specific cause of the swelling; this is usually accomplished by a medical exam, along with blood and other tests.

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After a long day of work where standing or sitting is a requirement, many of us may come home and “put our feet up." We often do this because our feet and legs are aching and sometimes swollen. The reasons why feet and legs swell cannot be generalized; therefore, carefully note the circumstances surrounding the event. Only a health-care provider can diagnose the specific cause of the swelling; this is usually accomplished by a medical exam, along with blood and other tests.

Significance

Swelling of the feet and legs is known as peripheral edema; this condition causes swelling due to abnormal fluid buildup in the affected area. Inflammation of the tissues is another reason why swelling happens. Swelling can occur in the calves, thighs, feet or ankles—or any or all of the above. Numerous reasons exist for leg and feet swelling; some causes are innocuous, while others can be life-threatening. Consult your physician to determine the exact cause of the fluid retention and swelling.

Effects

Peripheral edema—or fluid buildup—is sometimes attributed to gravity or systemic problems. Edema produces an effect in which fluids are trapped in leg tissues, causing swelling. Clinicians at the Mayo Clinic state that the circulatory system, lymphatic system and kidneys contribute to the proper distribution of the body’s fluids, so problems with these areas can cause edema. Inflammation can be influenced by an immune-system response, as would be the case with rheumatoid arthritis. Breaks or sprains are also major causes of tissue inflammation in the legs and feet.

Causes

Common factors that contribute to your feet and legs swelling can include standing or sitting for long periods of time, as with long trips in planes or automobiles. An injury, such as a sprain; being overweight or pregnant; or age can also cause fluid retention. However, more serious causes can include blood clots, and heart, kidney or liver failure. Leg infections, malnutrition, bug bites or stings, varicose veins, surgery and some medications can also cause swollen feet and legs.

Prevention/Solution

When swelling of the legs and feet occur, experts at the University of Maryland recommend elevating your feet. To do this, lie down and raise your feet above the level of your heart. When taking long road trips, stop every hour or so, stretch your legs and walk around. While flying, get up and move around to keep the fluid from coagulating in your feet and legs. If you experience pain while trying to walk around, stay off your feet and exercise your legs instead.

Warning

If you are experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, confusion or dizziness combined with leg swelling, call 911, or go to the nearest hospital emergency room. According to the Mayo Clinic, these symptoms can be a sign of a serious heart condition. Furthermore, if you have fever, or if the leg or foot is red, swollen and warm to the touch, seek medical attention immediately.

References

About the Author

Debra Bacon is an award-winning journalist and editor who has managed and assisted with managing several interesting businesses, including The Country Press Group in Malakoff, Texas, which published four newspapers in East Texas. Bacon is a former member of the Texas Press Association and the Texas Community Newspaper Association.

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