Swelling in the legs, also called edema, is a common occurrence, and thousands of people deal with it each day. It happens when your body retains fluid in your lower extremities. Most of the time, it occurs on both sides of the body, and it is not usually dangerous. However, it can be an indication of a more problematic health complication.

What are the most common causes of leg swelling?

Causes can range from major illness and injury to minor lifestyle changes, each with its own degree of seriousness. Some of the most common reasons people experience swelling in the legs are:

  • Prolonged sitting or standing
  • Heart or kidney disease or failure
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Pregnancy
  • Reactions to medications, including ibuprofen, and prescription medications for blood pressure and diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • PMS
  • Gout
  • Cellulitis
  • Injuries such as an ankle sprain, broken bone, or torn ligament
  • Venous insufficiency

What should you do when you experience swelling?

If you experience swelling, it is important to make an appointment with a doctor to get to the bottom of what is causing it. In the meantime, there are some things you can do at home that might help reduce the swelling. They include:

  • Elevate your legs while sitting or lying down. Try sleeping with a pillow under your legs.
  • If you suspect a medication is causing the swelling, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about changing your dosage, but never stop taking prescription medication without your doctor’s permission.
  • Avoid prolonged sitting or standing by taking regular breaks.
  • Some people find that stretching their legs, feet, and ankles or doing yoga helps reduce swelling.
  • Get your blood pumping with some cardiovascular exercise. Swimming and biking are good choices because they do not require you to put much weight on your legs.
  • Take a look at the number on the scale and work to reduce it. Obesity can also cause swelling.
  • Wear compression stockings
  • Try an Epsom salt soak. Mix the salt with cool water and soak your feet for about 20 minutes.
  • Avoid wearing shoes and socks that are too tight or uncomfortable.
  • Limit the amount of salt in your diet.
  • Drink more water. It may seem counterintuitive but the less you drink, the more likely you are to swell.

When is leg swelling considered serious?

Unfortunately, not all swelling goes away with those home remedies and lifestyle changes. In some cases, the swelling may be an indicator of a serious issue and could even require a trip to the emergency room. This is especially true if it occurs for no apparent reason or is the result of an injury, accident, or fall. Get to the ER immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms when your legs swell:

  • Mental confusion
  • Fainting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain in the chest or arms
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • A visible wound on the swollen leg(s)
  • The skin on the leg(s) is warm and red
  • The skin on the leg(s) is pale and cold
  • You are unable to walk, stand, or put any kind of weight on your legs

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