Edema is the medical term for swelling that occurs anywhere in the body and is sometimes painful. It’s most common in the feet, legs, and ankles. It happens when your small blood vessels leak excess fluid into nearby tissues. Gravity then pulls these fluids down into the lower part of your legs and causes them to swell. Edema can be a warning sign of poor circulation brought on by a problem in the venous circulatory system, other vein problems, or other more serious medical conditions.
Signs and symptoms of edema
Specific signs and symptoms of edema depend on the underlying cause but swelling and pain are common. A person with edema may also experience:
- Swollen, stretched, and shiny skin
- Skin that stays dimpled after a few seconds of pressure
- Puffiness of the ankles, face, or eyes
- Aching body parts and stiff joints
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Decreased urine production
- Fuller hand and neck veins
- Other visual anomalies
Symptoms also depend on the type of edema and which part of the body is affected.
What causes edema
Causes of edema can range from seemingly harmless to life-threatening. Common causes of edema include:
- Long periods of standing or sitting
Sitting or standing for prolonged periods can cause excess fluid to build up in your feet, ankles, and lower legs. It is more common in hot weather.
- Venous insufficiency
When the small valves (flaps) inside your leg veins become damaged or weakened, you can develop a disease called venous insufficiency. This makes it more difficult for your veins to pump blood back toward the heart and increases your risk for conditions like varicose veins and edema.
- Chronic lung diseases
If you have long-term lung diseases like chronic bronchitis or emphysema, you have a higher risk of experiencing edema. These conditions increase pressure in the blood vessels that go from your heart to your lungs, which can lead to swelling in your legs and feet.
- Congestive heart failure
Congestive heart failure means your heart can no longer pump blood normally. This causes fluid to build up in your lungs as well as other parts of your body, like the legs and feet.
Pregnancy can cause temporary edema or a more serious condition called preeclampsia. This condition may cause swelling in the hands, feet, or face. These conditions typically resolve within 2 weeks of delivery.
- Low levels of protein
Malnutrition, as well as kidney and liver disease, can all cause low levels of protein in your blood. Proteins are essential for retaining salt and water inside your blood vessels and keeping them from leaking into your tissues. When you don’t have enough blood protein (albumin), you may experience swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet.
How to treat edema
To treat edema effectively, you must first treat the root cause. Your doctor will perform a comprehensive medical evaluation to determine what’s causing the swelling and recommend a specific treatment plan. They may also recommend wearing medical-grade compression stockings and doing specific exercises to help alleviate some pain and pressure.
If you or a loved one is experiencing any swelling in the leg and think it might be associated with a vein problem, visit one of our conveniently located Virginia Vein Care offices and talk to a skilled specialist. We can help determine what’s causing your leg swelling and whether a vein treatment is right for you.